QUESTION: Can you write about the beauty, the strength, the gifts that death can sometimes bring? I have had the honor of being near a handful of loved ones in their final moments. There is, no doubt, incredible sadness, but sometimes I feel our society tells us death should be nothing but loss. Can you speak to this?
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and in our society today death is often not seen as beautiful or a peaceful exit from a life well lived.
We have medicalized death, demonized it and made it something to be feared. What we expect is what we will perceive so we see through the eyes of our fear.
Knowing the normal, natural progression the body takes to leave helps neutralize that fear. Once that fear is eased we can see and experience with a different view or perspective.
What will be seen beyond our fear is the body naturally letting go. Slowly, breathing changes, getting slower. The mind is withdrawn inward so there is very little response to voices or what is happening around and about them. Sometimes there may be agitation, a restlessness. There can be congestion in the back of the throat and upper lungs. If a catheter is not inserted there will be peeing and stooling the bed. All of this is normal, nothing bad is happening.
What are the gifts? For the patient the gift is not being hooked up to machines that are trying to prevent the inevitable. The gift is having those they care about close. If they are at home then the comfort of their own surroundings. Mostly because the person is so withdrawn and inward, I think the gift is the comfort a loving environment can give.
My mother lived with me the last five months of her life. Our relationship, as any relationship, had its ups and downs. During those last five months we became closer than we ever had been. It was an opportunity to be present with each other in a different way. It was a gift where love bloomed after it had faded.
I’m not saying caring for someone in the time before their death is easy. It is not. It is a lot of work caring for someone in their final weeks and days. Physically, it is time intensive. Emotionally, it is draining and heart wrenching.
What are the gifts for us the watchers? The opportunity to say our final goodbye, to say what is in our heart and mind one last time, to touch into the grace of the experience.
If our fears have been neutralized and conquered when death has come and we supported and loved our person on their final journey it is then that we realize the gift we have been given.