Dying is not a medical situation. In the hours to minutes, often even days before death, we don’t need medical assistance. We don’t need doctors or nurses or hospitals or 911. We need help from friends, caregivers, and family. The hours to minutes before death become a social, communal situation; a time of support from others.
The person who is actively dying has gone within, is not interacting with others, is doing the internal work of getting out of their body. It is us, the ones who will remain after our loved has departed, that need the guidance and support. (See my booklet, “The Eleventh Hour: A Caring Guideline for the Hours to Minutes Before Death” for ideas of what you can do as your loved one is dying).
Caring for someone in the days to minutes before death is hard work. It is physically exhausting as we keep vigil; it is emotionally turbulent as we face the loss of someone close to us. All of the feelings, positive and negative, surrounding our relationship with the person who is dying float to the surface of our mind and memories. Our fears of dying and death are projected into our current situation bringing an underlying sense of discomfort.
As families and friends gather, tensions often surface. Family feuds, challenges, all come forward. This time can be a time of great bonding and comfort or it can bring out our worst family traits and tension. It can be a great opportunity for healing family wounds, for expressing love and compassion for one another.
Most important, this time is our opportunity to individually say goodbye to the person who is dying, to be alone with them and talk from our heart; maybe saying what we never had the time or chance to say before. This is a social time, a time of words, of touch, of being present with those who make up our lives.