To: End of life doulas, in-home caregivers, hospice nurses, social workers and chaplains, to No One Dies Alone volunteers who work with families in their home, funeral home employees who transport the body to the funeral home and to the good samaritan who is just helping a friend, I offer these thoughts:
Death is an emotional, scary, hopeless time. People who are directly affected and present at the moment of death are in shock as well as hit with the reality of “They were right, my loved one is going to die”. Even if death is predicted and expected we don’t really believe the prediction. Other people die, not our loved ones. Now standing in the room with our love dead, the harshness of life becomes all too real.
Words cannot soften the hurt and emotional drain a person is experiencing. Being present as the special person is taken from the home or place of residence means experiencing our last personal, normal contact with that person, our last private moment. The return to the room (if in our home) where death occurs is the first important step in the grieving process. That returning moment, that returning vision, will stay as a memory forever. Then the question is will the memory be healing or wrenching?
Returning to an empty, unmade, soiled bed in an area scattered with used medical supplies and medicine containers, either glaring with light or totally dark, is a harsh reminder of the events that have just taken place. Having to clean the room and then try to return to normal living in that room is a traumatic task. The energy of that room is changed forever. There will always be the presence of the loved one. A sad often-frightening memory has been built.
Now picture returning to the room where the death occurred. The funeral home has taken the body, the room is empty but a low light is burning. The bed, even if it is a hospital bed, is made with a memento on the pillow (flower, picture, poem, Bible or rosary if appropriate to the values of the family, a stuffed animal). The medicines and medical supplies are arranged in a discrete area and tidy. A very subtle memorial has been made, the subconscious is soothed by the sight, and a gentle comforting memory is formed. Now the room has a sad but softened energy. Healing is beginning.
Any of you helpers could easily and quickly cover the bed in a made bed fashion and leave a memento on the pillow. No explanation needs to be said regarding what has been done. Let the understanding and compassion of the action speak for itself the first time someone enters the room.
For the family and significant others of the deceased this simple action has a lasting, comforting effect.
Something more about A Moment of Death Guide...
My End of Life Guideline Series of books supports the entire dying process from the time that the patient is told they are unfixable through to the beginning of the grieving process. The patient, caregivers and loved ones are given tools to navigate this challenging time.