Am I Dying?

Michael F. Melara, Executive Director

I recently watched a Ted Talks given by Matthew Riley, an EMT in Long Island, who has responded to countless near-fatal accidents. During the course of his work, Mr. Riley has encountered accident victims where it was clear they would not survive their injuries and there was nothing he could do. When asked by these victims, “Am I going to die?” he would lie to them out of fear of their reaction if they knew the truth.

Responding to a motorcycle accident five years ago, the rider had suffered critical injuries and nothing could be done to save him. The rider asked, “Am I going to die?” Mr. Riley decided to tell him the truth. “Yes.” With this news, the rider simply laid back and had a look of acceptance on his face. No fear or terror. Instead, he had a sense of inner peace.

Since then, Mr. Riley tells victims the truth if asked about the seriousness of their injuries. He’s noted three patterns emerging in these final conversations with victims. First, regardless of religious beliefs and backgrounds, there is a need for forgiveness. Their regrets about how they lived their lives are front and center. Second, there is a need for remembrance. As the victims approached death, they needed to feel they would live on, to be immortal in the hearts and thoughts of their loved ones and friends. And finally, the dying need to know that their life had meaning, that they did not waste their lives on meaningless tasks.

While the people we serve at Catholic Charities are not in an imminent state of physical death, their emotional self and their sense of inherent value has been “dying” for years and even generations. In the confines of our relationship with them, we hear their regrets and reassure them that they are loved and their life has meaning.

The need to be forgiven, the need to be remembered, and the need to know our life has meaning. These are the ties that bind all of us at Catholic Charities in our earthly work and our heavenly pursuits.

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