Sister Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP, Reflects
as Chaplain on Having a Good Death
If you want to die well, make peace with yourself, with God, and with your past.
That is the message that Sister Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP, has for people in the United States – especially for the many people who try to deny or ignore the reality of death. Sister Xiomara recently spoke to U.S. Catholic about her experience as a chaplain at Loyola University Medical Center outside of Chicago during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. She is now a chaplain at Holy Cross Hospital-Trinity Health in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
In the interview, Sister Xiomara recalled the experience of the first death of COVID-19 at Loyola University Medical Center – and of the multiple deaths that the chaplains, doctors, and nurses witnessed during the early weeks of the pandemic. “In less than three months, we had more than 500 deaths,” she said. “Every single day we accompanied families by phone. We were beyond exhausted.”
Sister Xiomara said the chaplains not only accompanied the patients and their families, but also the “whole team” of health care professionals and those who helped them, such as the people who cleaned the hospital rooms. “That resiliency and collaboration helped us prevent burnout and keep going,” she said.
Sister Xiomara said that the experience of death of the patient and the families depends on the circumstances and on the culture of the people involved. Sister Xiomara was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, a community-oriented society with close families and communities. “For us, death is part of life,” she said. In the United States, “many people live in denial, but the truth is: if you are alive, you will die.”
As a chaplain, Sister Xiomara has advice on how to think about death. “Try to make peace with yourself first,” she said. “Then make your peace with God.” She pointed to the importance of living a good life to prepare for death. “I think the important thing is to live life in the present and be the best human being you can be,” she said. “Try to live in peace, to make peace, to build peace, and to live authentically. Try to do things that give life. That is all you can take with you.”
Read the entire interview, published in the November 2022 issue of U.S. Catholic, Vol. 87, No. 11.