Finding Purpose Through Lemon Meringue Pie

Fears around end-of-life are common. Marylyn (not her real name) was a late-stage cancer patient with an end-of-life story that resonates strongly. She came into my office, shut the door and said, “No one will talk to me about dying. My family won’t talk to me; my doctor won’t talk to me. I need to discuss it.” 

For some, the strongest fear is of dying alone; not wanting to be a burden or wishing their life had more purpose. Regardless of the particular need or fear, this topic isn’t being addressed in our culture like it should be. Marylyn needed someone to talk to her to discover what she needed at this point of her life. The doctor did willingly agree to talk to her, but it was all medical detail— what he knew best. For her family, it was too painful, and, honestly, they had never been taught how to handle end-of-life, so they could not really help.

Marylyn told me she felt empty, like her life had been meaningless. Her husband had been successful, her son was off at school pursuing his future, and she couldn’t identify what version of that defined her. So, I asked her to tell me one thing she did really well.

She said, “I bake an awesome lemon meringue pie.”

I told her to bake ten pies and take them to whomever she felt needed them. The teacher, the frazzled bus driver, the local charity and anyone she felt needed a lift. She did just so and came back excited by the reactions. I told her to bake another ten and do the same thing. Three months and 200 pies later, Marylyn passed. In her obituary it said, “To our beloved lemon meringue pie lady, her recipe lives on.” Clearly, it wasn’t the pies but the kindness and love behind them that lived on. Marylyn lived on, and she passed knowing that.

You are alive every single moment—until the one moment you are not. Marylyn lived her last moments in a way that fulfilled her and gave her peace. There are so many things to address at end-of-life, from the emotional to the medical to the logistical. There are so many Marylyns are out there with no one to help them reflect on their lives and resolve issues. Your last days should be ones with meaning, and death should be a moment of peace.