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Question: My father has had cancer for about two years. Neither of us talk about dying. When a nurse asked him about dying, he said he was afraid he wouldn’t go to heaven. I would like to help in some way, but I’m also afraid to talk to him about it and I don’t really know what I would say.
Answer: We can’t really help anyone — in any given moment — more than we are willing to be honest about ourselves. In this instance (in all instances, really), what someone really wants (especially when facing his own mortality) is someone to talk to about their fears without being hammered by a bunch of nonsense from people who know nothing about what they profess. But we have all practiced pretense for so long with each other that virtually no one today can sit down and just listen and then speak from his or her heart about what they just heard. Even more than this… people intuit that we aren’t really there for them, but rather to soothe our own guilts… so to what end speak of anything? What your father needs is a friend; and it’s not too late to initiate this new relationship with him. No pretense. No past. No posturing. Just sit down and be a living invitation, through your own honesty, to talk to each other like two mortals who have not understood the immediacy of their own imminent mortality. Start there… and see what happens.