It is quite difficult to imagine or comprehend the final month, week, and hours of life. Naturally, our minds cannot grasp death just as it does not remember birth. In working with the dying, I often have to empathize with their longest, biggest battle yet and that is to prepare them for death. I never know the right things to say to move over the elephant in the room, I never know the right gestures to make them feel less vulnerable or less frighten than to know that their life will be ending in a matter of hours. This is the most challenging portion of my scary, emotional, rewarding job- placing myself in their shoes to be the best support system that is possible coming from a person who isn’t dying.
The reality is, no one can ever understand what a person feels when their time on this earth is coming to an end. Do I tell them that it is going to be okay? Do I tell them that we understand that it is scary? Do I tell them that we all have to leave this earth anyone, some of us just know the day and hour? Frankly, I know none of the above. I do not know what will happen, what to feel, nor do I know what to think.
So, I sit. I sit and I nod, I sit and I cry, I sit and I share their pain and their suffering and their emotions. I sit and I admire their strength, their humility, their coming to terms with a known event. I sit and I pray in my head. I seldom talk, I look them in their eyes as they express how unfair life is and how they are good people and that they did not deserve to suffer an illness that will soon take their life.
“It is inconceivable for our unconscious to imagine an actual ending of our own life here on earth, and if this life of ours has to end, the ending is always attributed to a malicious intervention from the outside by someone else. In simple terms, in our unconscious mind we can only be killed; it is inconceivable to die of a natural cause or of old age. Therefore, death in itself is associated with a bad act, a frightening happening, something that in itself calls for the retribution and punishment.” -Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, MD
I, too wonder why this happens. I wonder why people who appear to be kindhearted, kind-spirited people have to suffer in a way unimaginable to me. I wonder what goes through a persons head on Monday knowing that Tuesday will be their last day on this earth. As I think back on my worst of days, my anxiety at its peek, my depression at its highest, I wonder how I ever could compare. I wonder if the saying is true, does life really flash before the eyes of the dying? Do they think of regrets? Do they think of bad decisions? I sit and I blink, I sit and I tilt my head in amazement. I sit and I squint my eyes to somehow assimilate the feeling of anguish to their level.
What I have learned is that there is a peace that comes at some point near the end. There is an acceptance, not an agreement, but an embrace. I sit and I wonder if that peace has yet to arrive. I sit and I wonder how many nights and days I have lived in fear, when fear was not present. I sit and I wonder how many countless hours I spent sitting and worrying about things that will not matter in the final hours.
Once I leave and I go back to my home, my family, my life of the living- I sit and I wonder how short life is.