July 10, 2020

“How can I know the presence of God in my final season of life?” (or at any time?)

A Feather in Time. Photo by diane cordell at Flickr. Creative Commons License

“How can I know the presence of God in my final season of life?” (or at any time?)
An excerpt from Walking Home Together: Spiritual Guidance and Practical Advice For The End Of Life

When people ask about knowing the presence of God in the midst of their terminal illness or death, I sometimes think that extraordinary spiritual experiences or “miracles” are what they imagine. Honestly, I have heard about plenty of them. From seeing Jesus himself to seeing angels, saints, deceased loved ones, little children or other “heavenly representatives,” patients and families have reported to our hospice team a variety of visions, experiences, and impressions. Sometimes the impressions were audible: voices, music, bells, a certain moving of the wind. On other occasions patients and families have witnessed curious events that they have interpreted as “signs.” One patient loved birds, for example, and right before she died a bird perched outside her window and then flew away at the exact moment she passed.

These curious occurrences get our attention, seem to add a level of meaning to sad situations, and bring a measure of comfort. I have little doubt that God can grant such blessings, and I never discount that possibility when presented with someone’s experience. However, it must be said that I’ve never known anyone to have control over such things happening. If these experiences are from God, then it appears to be God’s choice and God’s alone as to when and where and for whom they take place.

Therefore, if someone asks me, “How can I know the presence of God in my final season of life?” I wouldn’t counsel that person to expect the extraordinary vision, impression, or sign. Instead, I would encourage him to seek God’s help through the more ordinary means of grace — prayer, scripture, spiritual reading, the sacraments of the church, other spiritual practices, and so on.

I do have one unequivocal piece of counsel. If a person wants to know the presence of God in the midst of his sufferings, I would urge that person person to look for God primarily in the love of those around him.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us and his love is brought to perfection in us. (1 John 4:11-12)

…Before his death, Jesus summarized what he had taught his disciples: “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). How did Jesus overcome this evil world with all its troubles? By loving the people of the world and laying down his life for them. He overcame suffering and death by acts of sacrificial love.

Even so, we overcome through love.

If love is God’s answer to human suffering, then knowing God in our sufferings will involve immersing ourselves ever more deeply into loving relationships.

Walking Home Together, pp. 35-40


  1. CM, just a wonderful piece on such a delicate and personal issue that we all grapple with. In your thoughts presented here you articulate thoughts and give words meaning that I personally cannot summon up however when I read your comments above i nod my head in agreement and say that’s it. To do what you and other effective grief counselors do requires, knowledge, understanding and of course love but also a gift that is from God . I can learn from you, I can understand grief and have a loving heart but I would not and could not do what you and others do in this field. I sincerely mean this and in applies to many people I have encountered in my life, they are in the right person in the right position to truly help others. Many times I have passed on the opportunity to tell others how well they do their “job” out of thinking they know they are doing well. I am sure you are a blessing, a comfort trying to console those who are many time inconsolable, it has got to be draining.. Your sincere , compassionate message reveals your heart and soul though the cold medium of the internet. Another bit of teaching from you, that I will add to my memory bank, Thanks

    I am just afraid someone is robbing my memory bank , daily.

  2. anonymous says

    “How can I know the presence of God in my final season of life?” (or at any time?)

    ‘Let’ the Peace of Christ give you shelter

    • What does that actually mean though? It sounds great, but contains about as much actual information as ‘go to the end of the road & turn purple’. Can you describe in real terms what that means?

  3. Christiane says

    “On other occasions patients and families have witnessed curious events that they have interpreted as “signs.” One patient loved birds, for example, and right before she died a bird perched outside her window and then flew away at the exact moment she passed.
    These curious occurrences get our attention, seem to add a level of meaning to sad situations, and bring a measure of comfort.”

    YES, I get this.

    the week before my husband’s passing, a rabbit was seen near our deck by my husband and by the time I came over when he called me to see it, the rabbit had gone . . . but, days later, then when my husband was on respirator and semi-conscious in hospital, I was able to tell him:
    “your rabbit came back to see me” as I had looked out and seen the little one close to deck just resting and eating grass. For some time after my husband’s passing, the rabbit came round, then there were two, and I felt God had come near when I needed this gift, this ‘bond’ with my husband . . . a small rabbit, sitting, eating grass whom I called ‘my husband’s rabbit’, a ‘sign’, a grace, and yes, a comfort . . .

    Can’t explain the feelings of meaning, but it was, is, real to me that in His kindness to us can be such a gentle, simple, healing thing, but there it was, and I am thankful to God for that gift more than I can say

  4. My uncle was a Trappist monk for 60 years. When he was in hospice at the monastery I was sitting on one side of his bed and one of the monks was on the other side. This was the day before he died. He had quite a bit of morphine in his system and he was not communicative. For about seven hours that day he would raise his hands in the air every two or three minutes and say “God“ about eight or nine times in a row. I would hold one hand and whichever Monk was there would hold the other hand until he slowly lowered them down and became quiet again. I don’t know what he was seeing or experiencing but it’s not like he was saying Chevrolet or IBM or chicken. It was God all day. It was very curious. For me it was a draining experience. I was exhausted by the end of the day,

  5. anonymous says



    Oh, hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us
    And black are the waters that sparkled so green
    The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us
    At rest in the hollows that rustle between

    Where billow meets billow, then soft be thy pillow
    Oh weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease
    The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee
    Asleep in the arms of the slow swinging seas

    Asleep in the arms
    Of the slow swinging seas

  6. Michael Bell says

    My Dad is having emergency surgery today. There is a good chance he might not make it through. Prayers are requested. He has had 7 cancer or hernia surgeries over the last number of years. His surgeon has said that another one would likely kill him. But he has an infected gall bladder and blockage that hasn’t responded to treatment, so it has to come out

    Here is a little bit about him:


    • Prayers for peace, healing, and strength, Mike.

    • Robert F says

      I will be praying for your dad, you, and your family.

    • Rick Ro. says

      Yikes! Prayers going up.

    • Christiane says

      oh Michael, of course we will pray for your father and for you that all may be well. You must be very worried. Believe me, when you ask for prayers here at Imonk, people WILL help you. I know. I’m glad you told us about this so we can pray for you.

    • Dana Ames says

      Lord, have mercy on your servants the Bell family.


    • Warmest regards. Praying.

    • Norma Cenva says

      You have my prayers and solidarity too.

    • Michael Bell says

      Thanks for your prayers.

      Update: They found his liver was infected as well making surgery to risky for now. It has been cancelled until they can get the liver infection under control.

    • I’m praying too, Mike.

      I remember that article about your parents. And for some reason I commented then, ” I almost never meet Canadians I don’t like.” I still mean it.

  7. David Cornwell says

    I’ve always had a bit of fear about dying alone. Becoming deathly ill in the middle of the night and unable to contact another person. And then perhaps dying and my death not being discovered for a couple of days. I think I know where I’d turn in the eventuality of this kind of helplessness. My thoughts would hopefully go to the great Psalms that come to mind — and the hymns of the Church that always bring comfort, words of praise, love, and grace. And to those I love that have gone before me — Marge of course — Tom, my youngest brother — my mom and dad — and to Ray, our adopted son.

    What will that crossing be like? I don’t know, but it comes nearer each day and every dark night.

    • anonymous says

      a prayer for ‘the crossing’


  8. cheesehed says

    Thank you, Chaplain Mike. I’m in the final season of my life, though I don’t know how long the season will go. Your
    words and experience are very much appreciated!

  9. Rick Ro. says

    My dad, also in his final seasons of life, appreciated this article.

  10. Susan Dumbrell says

    late entry for Michael Bell,
    My prayers are with you.

  11. Norma Cenva says

    Love the Bluejay feather up top.
    So beautiful and filled with wonder…