Preparing for a Peaceful Passage

March 2021

Meg McConahey

Meg McConahey, lessons from hospice care, lessons on living from the dying, artist Krista Gawronski, dying as a time of closure, preparing for death

Meg McConahey is a daily newspaper reporter in Northern California. She is pursuing licensed Unity teacher credentialing and is president of the board of trustees of Unity of Santa Rosa, California.

You may not choose your life’s circumstances, but you can choose how you want to live—and transition

I met Krista Gawronski, an inspirational speaker and spiritual writer from Petaluma, California, through her work as founder of a volunteer group in her community called The Fabulous Women.

The Fabulous Women rush like an emergency emotional support team to the aid of any family in the community suffering hardship or grief.

A devout believer in the transcendent power of loving-kindness toward self and others, Krista calls her mission “Heartistry,” the alignment of our souls with our personal stories and divine guidance to elevate love, compassion, and positive energy in the world. 

Dying as a Time of Closure

Krista’s mission turned personal recently as her beloved mother-in-law, Cathy, neared the end of her life. Unlike the deaths Krista frequently encountered in her work, many of which were sudden and sometimes even violent, Cathy’s passing taught her that dying can also be a time of peaceful release and closure.

When she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer around her 84th birthday, Cathy opted against the chemotherapy that might have extended her life only a short while. Instead, she chose to come home to the fold of friends and family, where, from a bed set up in the family room, she was surrounded with the meaningful items that brought her happiness and comfort.

We may not choose the circumstances into which we are born or how events unfold for us, but we can find our power in how we react to life and what we do with what we are given.

She called it The Grateful Room because of a sign above the mantelpiece that simply said, “Grateful.” And that set the tone of her passage.

“It actually brought her a lot of joy,” Krista said of Cathy’s experience surrendering to the end of life rather than fighting it, and in the process making the most of those final moments.

“Every time I would walk down the stairs she would say, ‘Everything is perfect. I’m doing great,’” Krista recalled.

How Acceptance Prepares Us for the End

As Cathy prepared for the end, she spoke powerfully to Krista of acceptance. It’s not that Cathy was in denial, Krista said. But she had a deep insight while she was weighing whether to pursue chemotherapy or not.

Lessons from hospice care, lessons on living from the dying, artist Krista Gawronski, dying as a time of closure, preparing for deathShe recognized the confluence of those forces we cannot change—what we might see as inescapable fate or God’s will—and our free will to decide how we perceive our circumstances and respond to them. Cathy was determined to impart this profound lesson to her family during the month she spent making her transition in The Grateful Room.

In her final weeks, Cathy emphasized a similar message: Everything begins and ends with God, but in the middle is our ability to decide what we will do with all we have been given, the good and the not so good.

We may get sidetracked trying to figure out the mysteries of birth and death. But that, Cathy explained, is not the point. In between is the fullness of life, and that’s where our choices lie.

Cathy’s biggest lesson is that we have more choice than we might imagine over how we spend our time between the beginning and end of life. We may not choose the circumstances into which we are born or how events unfold for us, but we can find our power in how we react to life and what we do with what we are given.

In releasing attachment to conventional measures of success and leaning into love, we can face that last passage with less fear.

Each life has its share of pain. Like everyone, Cathy endured pain and loss over the years, Krista said. Everyone has regrets too. For instance, Cathy shared that she regretted never finishing college.

But we free ourselves when we understand that most of what we thought was important ultimately doesn’t matter much. It is a lesson both for the living and for those nearing the end of this experience on earth. In releasing attachment to conventional measures of success and leaning into love, we can face that last passage with less fear.

Cathy passed quietly as was her choice, waiting until just after her family had slipped away to bed, with only a beloved and trusted caregiver by her side.

Cathy’s lessons were simple in their truths. We may not choose the circumstances of our lives, but we can choose how we want to live. She wanted to share, said Krista, that we can choose to surrender in peace and gratitude, embraced by the love we cultivate in life.

“It all comes down to how well you loved. How you were able to give love and receive love,” Krista said, “without reservation.”


Lessons from hospice care, lessons on living from the dying, artist Krista Gawronski, dying as a time of closure, preparing for deathAre you or someone you know caring for a loved one or supporting a caregiver? We recommend our booklet Spiritual Support for Caregivers and Those Who Love Them today. También disponible en español.