It is my experience in working with the elderly and dying that the common human experience of waiting is intensified as their life nears its end. A feeling of being trapped can be the beginning of this process. Being confined to a wheelchair or bed can force one to simply ‘be.’ Often the desire to read or to watch TV is gone, yet there is something pulling them. They seem surrounded by silence. By that I don’t mean a lack of noise, I mean that something seems to be working on them. From what they express to me, they are reliving their lives. Which, of course, is not always a pleasant experience.
It is hard for the caregiver since there is so little that can be done to alleviate this painful part of the journey. What they struggled with all of their lives, but were able to keep under tight control, can be lost. While this can be unpleasant, it seems to be an integral part of the death process.
Most of those I have cared for, arrive at the point where they are at peace with their passing – content to wait and not hasten the process, nor do they want it forestalled. In all the years that I have been working with the elderly and dying, I have never had anyone ask me to hasten their death. In all of that time, I have had only one who wanted everything done to be kept from dying. In the end, even he asked that dialysis be stopped and he died peacefully within the week.
The last few days, when they seem to be unconscious, I get a sense that this letting go, waiting, and, yes, purification, is intensified. It is as if they are waiting until they can finally move on. I believe all of our lives are important and our deaths are a culmination of our lives, loves, success and failures. These last days can be a time of experiencing deep healing of the soul.
It saddens me that in our culture, many want to shorten this process. Perhaps, it is because of the discomfort for those who witness this part of our human journey. Others may want it the process shortened because they believe that death is the end. However, for those of us who believe that we do move on to something else, then all aspects of our lives are important. From conception to death, it is all sacred.
My experience is limited. I am neither a doctor nor a nurse. I have been with 40 people on their last journey in life. I am sure that there are many who have a deeper experience than I who could write better and deeper on this subject.
I have found that the best that can be done is to try to keep those near death comfortable. To let them know that they are safe and won’t be abandoned nor forgotten.
Sometimes it is the simplest things that are most important. The simple placement of pillows, proper covering for cold, dealing with thirst, the simple wiping of the face, or just the forehead with a cool cloth. It’s not rocket science for those of us who just turn, clean, feed and comfort… love and yes, also argue with those we have the honor of caring for.