Hot Topic: Nursing Homes for Sex Offenders & Violent Offenders

What the dying really regret

10-17-2014 National:

Editor's note: Kerry Egan is a hospice chaplain in South Carolina and the author of "Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago."

(CNN) -- "I know I'm supposed to hate my body," the patient said in her soothing Southern drawl.

She pushed away her lunch, a brown lump and pile of orange. Her son spent a lot of money to have low-fat, no-sodium, no-sugar, low-calorie meals delivered to the house while he was at work and she was home alone.

They looked like piles of wet rocks.

"I really could die happy if I was allowed just one more bite of caramel cake," she said with a sigh. The woman was dying of cancer, and I was her chaplain. "I don't suppose you have any?"

"No, sorry. But why are you supposed to hate your body?"

"Well, Kerry," she looked incredulous that I even asked and laughed. "Because I'm fat!"

She ran her soft hands over her ponderous breasts and her mounding, cancer-ridden belly. She spilled over the sides of her recliner. "I've known that since I was little." She examined the crocheted blanket on her lap.

"Everyone told me -- my family, my school, my church. When I got older, magazines and salesgirls and boyfriends (told me), even if they didn't say so out loud. The world's been telling me for 75 years that my body is bad. First for being female, then for being fat and then for being sick."

She looked up and this time tears trembled along her bottom eyelids.

"But the one thing I never did understand is, why does everyone else want me to hate my body? What does it matter to them?"

There are many regrets and unfulfilled wishes that patients have shared with me in the months before they die. But the stories about the time they waste hating their bodies, abusing it or letting it be abused -- the years people spend not appreciating their body until they are close to leaving it -- are some of the saddest.

Because unlike the foolish or best-intentioned mishaps, the terrible accidents, the slip-ups that irrevocably change a life, this regret is not a tragic mistake. It's intentional. It's something other people teach them to feel about their bodies; it's something other people want them to believe. ..Continued.. by Kerry Egan, Special to CNN

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