I often want to say thank you to the people that have shared their last moments with me. I made this statement the other day, “Every death I’ve been at is such a unique experience.”
“Really?” My husband asked me and I elaborated about this perception of mine. Yes, I said, just as in birth, all of us enter this world in a form recognizable and nearly the same, yet each mother and infant are totally unique. Every person’s story, both their birth and death, is uniquely theirs’. I often consider the many, many deaths that I have been a part of. The things that hospice nurses talk about and teach, to prepare families for the signs of imminent death: breathing changes; skin color and temperature changes; reaching a place of minimal responsiveness or a coma-like state; the escaping of the dying soul into some other realm, while we watch them withdraw from this life; these things are experienced universally and this is how we are able to describe the dying process.
But the story, Ahhh, that is so different for every one.
Who is there, to grieve the passing? What regrets and joys are remembered? How tenacious is the person’s hold on what is now? How much preparing have they done…the thoughtful anticipation of actually dying, with a sense of waiting, and perhaps feeling “ready”? And what do I learn as I watch the letting go?
This is each person’s very own tale. I see faces, beautiful and terrible, of my patients. To name a few of the masks of the dying: fear, dread, anticipation, anger, depression, despair, excitement, sadness, agitation, apprehension, frustration, suffering, shock, surprise, dismay, resentment, bitterness, joyless, joyful, courageous, woeful, tranquil, resolute, exultant, serene, peaceful and even satisfied. Perhaps my favorite: a woman who died only a few weeks following the news from her doctor that her cancer was so widespread,
he had no advice except: “Go home and prepare to die”. She did both, prepare and die, in a swooping magical ride that ended with a glorious smile on her face, after she breathed no more. Yes, beautiful.
I think of the Dr. Seuss book, “Oh, the Places You Will Go…” How fortunate I have been, to have seen the many faces and shared the many stories.
Uniquely theirs, those final days and hours.
off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”