A counselor and teacher has one last lesson for us
By Winkie Lee
Published in News on October 27, 2004 2:03 PM
He is tired now and sleeps several hours a day. He no longer lives at home; instead, he has moved in with friends. His voice is weak, and sometimes he has difficulty walking.
But Dr. Ed Hogan is ever the instructor and, even from his deathbed, he wants to teach one more lesson.
The subject is death, dying and living. What he most wants people to know about dying is this: "Really there is nothing to be afraid of."
Hogan, who is 65, is finding comfort in his religious beliefs and in the people he loves. He's also finding that his many years of counseling the terminally ill and their families have helped prepare him for his journey.
"You see, everything I know about grief is what people going through losses have taught me," he says.
He refers to one of the lessons in "Tuesdays With Morrie," the last of the many plays in which he has appeared over the years.
In that play, people are reminded that we cannot always make it alone. We need teachers -- "I and thou." What the people he has counseled over the years don't realize, he says, is that they have taught him as well.
Among the lessons, he says, is that "death comes gently." As it approaches, unimportant things disappear, and the things that matter become "so much more real."
Hogan was diagnosed with colon cancer in the summer of 2003. He underwent a few chemotherapy treatments, but didn't like the way they made him feel. When a spot was found on his liver, he decided to discontinue treatments and to live his life the best he could for as long as he could.
He continued to teach psychology at Wayne Community College and to offer free counseling. He traveled. He had meals with friends. And he continued to act in local theatrical productions.
It was his idea to do "Tuesdays With Morrie" as a fund-raiser for the Kitty Askins Hospice Center. The play was performed in August, and more than $13,000 was raised. The money will help pay for an expansion of the center, which currently has only 12 bedrooms.
"Tuesdays With Morrie" recounts the true story of a young man learning life lessons from his dying former teacher. It is said that when a person learns to die, he learns to live.
What has Hogan learned?
He says he has not been afraid at any time during his illness -- not even when he was diagnosed.
"I felt the time was right," he says.
Hogan says his faith has been a comfort and that all he wants "is for God's will to be done for me."
He believes in "an infinitely loving God. And I do believe everything is in His care. He's not judgemental. His compassion, love and forgiveness are all intertwined."
What does he believe lies ahead?
"I'm hoping it's going to be rest," he says. "Then I believe that my life will be reviewed based on the missed opportunities and the moments.
"The missed opportunities are the times when I had the opportunity to help someone, and I didn't.
"The moments are when I reached out."
Some of those moments have had unexpected rewards.
He recalls a time several years ago when he was sitting on a park bench in California and two men who had been drinking approached him. One asked for a cigarette. Hogan gave him one and offered one to his friend. The man sat on the bench and said, to no one in particular, that it was his birthday.
Hogan handed him a $5 bill and told him to buy something for himself. A little later, the man returned and handed him a wildflower as a thank-you. Hogan was touched by the gesture.
Hogan is Irish. He came to Goldsboro 25 years ago to teach at Wayne Community College. He is single but not alone, and his friends seem innumerable.
During his illness, they have showered him with affection. There have been cards, calls and words of love and encouragement.
Now these people who care so much for him are having to let him go. He is so weak that he is receiving only a few visitors and accepting only a few phone calls.
This raises one of the questions connected with the subject of death and dying. How does one let go?
"Partly by recognizing it's better for the person" who is ill, he says. "We will see each other again."
It concerns Hogan that something connected with him hurts others, but he says he knows the process.
"They will be sad for a period of time," he says. "Then the sadness will lessen. They'll become reconciled."
He recalls a conversation he had with a friend. He told her, "You and I have had this incredible relationship. We've enjoyed each other and had great times. We've loved each other deeply. And, when I die, you'll be sad, but, once you get to reconciliation, think of all the glorious memories."
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