Being with the Dying: A Gift of Grace
by Elizabeth River, Hospice by the Bay Spiritual Support Counselor
The end of a year is when we often reflect on those we’ve lost. The following story is written by Elizabeth River, Spiritual Support Counselor at Hospice by the Bay since 2008. And remember, if you would like some help coping with grief in your own life, our Community Grief Services are there for you during a difficult time.
“What people really need is a good listening to.” ~ Mary Lou Casey
The first time I visit a patient I ask, “How can I help? What would you like to support you in this time?” And I listen to the answer. And sometimes just being listened to is all the person needs.
One of my all-time most-beloved patients was Norma. She was in love with life, her family and with the world she lived in. I came to understand the great gifts Norma had: passion, engagement, the ability to laugh at herself and make others laugh with her. I delighted in being her spiritual support counselor and grew enormously attached to her. We talked about her afterlife beliefs and hopes, especially during her last six weeks. Once she said, “I wish we had known each other years ago; we would have been great friends.”
While I know that everyone I serve is in the last phase of life, I felt a piercing sense of loss when Norma died. I found myself wishing that I had said a certain thing or read her something I knew she would have loved.
I had to do what I invite each of you to do when a loved on dies: let go of all regret, second-guessing and self-judgment. Forgive yourself, if necessary. Let yourself experience your sadness, grief and emptiness. Trust that whatever you said or did was just what your beloved needed at the time.
If you can bring yourself to do this letting go and experience the depth of your grief, this trust will — eventually — lead to peace and quietness, and a dawning awareness of exactly what this gift is, to be a companion to a dying loved one. A gift of grace.