Being With the Dying

When my mother’s best friend, Katherine, became ill with stomach cancer, her daughter enlisted Katherine’s friends to be of support as she went through her chemotherapy treatment and subsequent recuperation.  Her daughter lived out of state and could not be with her day-to-day.

I had known Katherine my entire life.   She was one of the most positive, bright lights I had ever known.  Her daughter and I had spent much time together as children which included many hours  swimming in the beautiful lake that they lived on.  Katherine’s husband had died many years prior.

Her daughter was very organized and efficient with setting up people in shifts to take turns staying with Katherine during her illness.  Sometimes this included remaining overnight with her.  But Katherine had a very independent nature, even at age 87, and at times would insist that she was OK and send us home.  Her daughter had tried her best to convince Katherine to move to North Carolina and stay with her family, but Katherine always refused.  She had been there for over 50 years.  During one afternoon, she confided in me that she would never leave her beloved home on the lake.   The house had an enclosed porch that overlooked the water and we would sit out there for hours as we talked and relaxed.  Her eyes would occasionally scan the lake and she would comment on a bird that had caught her eye or an activity by a neighbor around the water’s edge.

We were able to share ourselves like never before.  She regaled me with all kinds of stories from her past and shared intimate feelings.  She told me she was totally at peace and was not fearful of death.  I felt somehow as if I were a vessel for her to pour her heart into and was so grateful that I could be of service to her in this way.

I marveled at her serenity during this difficult time.  There was no “battle”, just gentle, quiet acceptance and the allowing of what was.  She illustrated to me what it meant to live in the moment.  Her ease and even emotions were a gift to me as well. 

One day she tired as we had been sitting on the porch for quite some time and so we retired to her bedroom.  Climbing into her bed, I propped myself next to her as we watched television.  A short time later, as I noticed her eyes getting heavy, I told her I would leave and let her sleep.  Lowering myself down on the bed so I could look into her eyes, I held her hands in mine and told her how much I loved her.  She smiled at me with beaming love in her clear, sweet, blue eyes and told me how beautiful I was.  Tears pooled in my eyes as I realized, in that moment, what grace she possessed.

Katherine died quietly in her sleep with hospice in attendance several months after her diagnosis.  Her bedroom window open to the lake.

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38 Comments

  1. Touched my so much 🙂 xx

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  2. being with a person who is inching towards death is very brave and compassionate gesture.

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    • And yet I was the one who benefited so much from this experience. She was so full of love and acceptance and was very peaceful.

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      • it takes a lots and lots of courage to be with people who are inching toward death.

        salutes for your strength and courage.

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      • Well thank you, Trisha. To me it felt like a heightened sense of love to be around her. There was something almost profound about it. I don’t know if this was an unusual experience or not.

        I think it was just Katherine and being with her spirit–it was strong and loving in spite of it being ready to move on elsewhere…

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      • its people like you that make this world a softer, more tender place.

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      • What a nice compliment! I’m very touched–thank you.

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      • Its truth. People like me will be extremely scared to be with a person who is counting his/her last breath. Its an extremely painful experience.

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      • I wasn’t with Katherine when she finally passed away but I was with my father. His passing was very peaceful so I didn’t feel any fear. It was expected and he just quietly slipped away.

        I can tell you this, that if someone was in great pain and agony, or suffering terribly during their transition, I would feel great distress too. It would not be something that I would want to witness. So I can’t say that I’m this person that can just be with anyone who is passing.

        But spending time with Katherine before her death was a precious gift for she and I both. Close to the end, she had round-the-clock nurses and hospice people who attended to her.

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      • As you know I have never been with any human being who was about to pass away.

        The thought unsettles me. How does it feels to realize that the person will never open his/her eyes again.

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      • In my own personal experience, I realized that my father had lived a very long life considering the abusive way he had treated his body for many years–excessive smoking and drinking. He was suffering some bad physical problems at the end and it simply was his time to go.

        No one wants their loved one to hang on to this life under those conditions. It is much more humane to let them be in peace–and go.

        You could tell when his last breath went that “he” was no longer there, in that shell left behind. I had the great support of my brother and sisters and other family members there too–I wasn’t afraid or upset.

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      • i firmly believe that those who stay with a dying person with love in their hearts are the noblest persons.

        Mother Teresa and her nuns have done it for years, they pick up dying destitutes and give them dignified last few days.

        I think its the noblest service we can do for our fellow human beings.

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      • I too think it is a very noble service. Mother Teresa was the most noble of all–to give the destitute loving care at the end of their lives. What an amazing example of selfless service.

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      • Thats one of the most beautiful things she has done for human beings. She certainly is a saint. There is no doubt about that.

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      • It certainly seemed like saintly actions to me…

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      • if you had ever seen one of those men wasting away in street you would have realized it is indeed a saintly action. she was very kind to start a thing like that which is still going on.

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      • She would not turn any one away. She would touch and care for the people that other’s found too repulsive.

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      • not only that she picked them up from the street to serve them.

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      • She was the epitome of compassion…

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  3. you remind me of my grandmother, having loved someone and been loved for decades, it is heart breaking to big good bye…

    lovely story.

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    • Thank you, Jingle. Yes, hard to say goodbye–but she made the end easy as she wasn’t suffering and we knew it was her time to go. She went with such grace…

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  4. http://jinglepoetry.blogspot.com/2010/10/poetry-potluck-beaches-and-mountains.html
    Our poetry potluck is NOW open, welcome linking in.
    your support is appreciated.
    hope to see you in.

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  5. Among other things, she taught how to die. We are always living with dying.

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  6. Mom passed two days ago… Cancer is a terrible thing (and they say stomach cancer is very painful as in your story) but the amazing grace that comes at the end is so beautiful that we really don’t know how much we are in for until we are there to experience it. I just wish the person suffering did not have to go through all the pain at the end.
    My mom passed in her sleep but the last 2 months were a difficult time. She started off with breast cancer that spread throughout her body and she obsessed with ways to fight it right up to the last week then she was in and out of sleep and could not convey what she was going through very well and it was agony to watch.
    The things that we’ll hold on to are the things that we know about that person and their life. I would care to say that Katherine was thankful for your company when she needed you the most. My mom( Kathleen) was but she tried her best to do it all her self because she did not want those she loved to hurt over her but in the end she appreciated the comfort that was given. Peace be with you.

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    • Well, I was so saddened to read this today–I’m very sorry that you lost your mother 2zpoint and just two short days ago… Please accept my condolences.

      I would guess that your mother passed younger in her life than Katherine was–and somehow, to me, it seems that we feel cheated when our loved ones leave way sooner than we grow to expect. Your mother sounds like she was a very determined and strong-willed woman wanting to protect her loved ones from hurt or trouble having to do with her condition.

      I’m sorry you had to witness her struggle and felt powerless to know how to help her towards the end and suffered so yourself.

      I don’t know why some people have to suffer so much at the end of their lives but I was very grateful for the grace that Katherine showed to me. It sounds like Kathleen possessed a lot of grace herself.

      You sound like such a loving, sensitive son–I wish you peace too. Thank you for sharing this with me–I so appreciate it.

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  7. There is a man I know, one that calls me his friend, who said that a person dying can be a gift to us. Sometimes the greatest gift we might ever receive. I think maybe he’s right. And I think that what you did, simply seeing her and allowing her to be her, is the greatest gift you could have ever given her.

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    • I agree with you and your friend, Woih. The dying can be a gift to us. Besides Katherine’s death, I witnessed my father’s passing about five years ago. That was an incredible experience as many family members gathered around him as he took his last breath. That was my first time with being close to someone who has died. I recounted that experience here in my blog too.

      I think Katherine and I gave a lot to each other during that time. I’ll always feel grateful–I gained so much.

      Thanks for sharing that, Woih.

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  8. It’s painful to see someone who is so close to you suffer so much. My heart goes out to 2zpoint. I know I am too young and too inexperienced to say this, but I really feel for you.

    Bodhi…you were so very compassionate and brave to stay with Katherine during her final moments. You are a good person. I hope you get over your grief.

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    • My heart goes out to him too, Naba.

      Thank you, Naba, for your kind comments here. Any grief has turned to gratitude now. But just that particular moment with her was so powerful that my emotions get carried away sometimes.

      You are a good person too.

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  9. very touching story Bodhirose…very emotional as I have a tear in my eye with peace for that woman…(+)
    soulbro*

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  10. Yes! Actually I do remember this, though I had forgotton until I read it. We’ll use it. Thank you! I’ll let you know when it posts. Please send me a bio. Thanks, Gayle. You are a love …Appreciate your support in this effort.

    Virtual hugs!
    Jamie

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