Waiting for death is not polite conversation is it? Well…here I go again…
It can be one of the worst times of anyone’s life – waiting for death.
For the person about to pass, it may be a time of confusion or pain. Perhaps spent in a clinical setting with unfamiliar noises and faces. Too it could be a time of sharp clarity, where life becomes an unfinished story about to end.
For their friends and family, it can also be a time of confusion where thoughts and emotions conflict. Wanting the person to hang on for another hour, another day, brings with it the knowledge that those wishes prolong pain. Conversely, compassionately hoping for a speedy passing opens up feelings of guilt akin to considering murder.
We don’t talk about death…… we don’t talk to the dying
Death is still a taboo subject in our society. The dying are often visited briefly. There’s an awkward exchange of pleasantries. The usual English complaints about the weather are suddenly immaterial! Goodness – what do we talk about then? The soon-to-be-bereaved are avoided. No-one quite knows what to say to them. Try discussing death round the coffee table – the conversation soon dies!
During my time working in a care home, I sat beside many elderly people as they passed. Most simply slipped away. A beautiful ending. Often, we had spoken until there were no more words left. Then we sat in companionable silence.
Silence is not comfortable for British people is it! But it creates a space where people can think and make decisions without feeling alone. Sometimes, I believe that decision is to stop fighting, to approach the next phase of life and to just let go. For they had been waiting for death for a while.
Care homes get a lot of bad press, but trust me, most are warm and accepting places where elderly people feel they can be whoever they need to be. In peace. Even as they approach that final step.
My only complaint, and I made it often enough, is the “regulation” of dying and death. Where it is no longer a natural process. We were bound by the insistence to follow the medical model. Professionals each hawking their particular discipline. Then death is often hastened by a poisonous cocktail of mind-numbing substances.
Euthanasia in a country which prohibits it.
Do I agree with that?
Do I agree with it? My opinion matters not, but sometimes, yes, a person simply wishes to move on and their body refuses to let go. Do I think that sometimes – too often – it is done for the convenience of others? Oh, controversial, but yes.
I would never agree that people should lay covered in sores, hoping for each breath to be their last. Their comfort is paramount. But their emotional comfort is as important. And in a society which doesn’t discuss death, that can be difficult. Dying is something that most of us only do once in this lifetime – and its approach is highly personal. Some people want to talk about it but are quietened by false reassurances such as “you’ll be better in the morning” or the embarrassed “now, don’t talk like that”.
But whose sensibilities are we observing here?
Aware that others don’t want to talk about it, don’t want to listen, the person settles back down to socially acceptable internal reverie. Id est – worrying.
Ah now, isn’t that better? NO!!
But don’t overkill the subject of death!
But is it always right to have the care plan talk about “final wishes” on a monthly basis? I recall sitting down beside a lady whose life was coming to an end. She snapped at me “not you as well! I know I am dying, I have talked about it enough now! I just want to be ME until I die. Let me live!”! I smiled and said I had come to ask what she wanted for lunch. But I made it clear to everyone that this lady was done with discussing “final wishes”. Allow her to tell us when something needed to change.
Hers was a story I used when coaching staff. I asked them to follow the individual’s lead – listen to them and talk about what was brought up. If that was their impending death, then so be it. Feel honoured that you had been trusted with their doubts and worries.
Of course, there are no answers to many of the questions…we cannot know until we pass ourselves. But be truthful about that. Often the individual is seeking their own answers and is using you as a sounding board. Just listen as a friend.
If they want to speak about the future, a future they would not see from the same pair of eyes, then go with it. Treat them as you always have, as they wish to be treated. Whether they are in denial or not does not matter, this is their time to spend talking about whatever they want!
I was delighted to be asked to assist at a Death Matters conference some years ago, leading small groups of people in open and frank discussions about dying and death. A whole day was dedicated to death, waiting for death and encouraging conversation around it. There are coffee mornings and afternoon teas for the same purpose. But I suspect it is mainly carers who attend.
Most people simply do not want to talk about death until they have to. Their own death or that of another. And often by then it is too late to effect any changes.
But it is frequently the case that by the time they DO want to talk, no-one wants to listen.
Do dying people have regrets?
I took a huge and financially risky step at the end of 2020 to follow a dream, saying that I did not want to die with regrets. Indeed, I have heard many elderly people say “if I had my time again…”. But I rarely heard regrets expressed on the death bed. More often there was a sense of peace, acceptance or resignation.
I would guess that during the final days, many people become more aware of themselves amidst the bigger picture and less caught up in the dramas of others. Family disputes! Old grudges! They are lost in the past. Though I know that that is not always how it happens. A few carry their hatred with them as they pass.
Naturally I sat with people who had lived a long life, they had had time to consider their passing from it. They were tired and wanted rest.
Maybe it is different with younger people;
Younger people are less likely to have that beautiful death. They have been cheated of years. Robbed of opportunities.
No longer young, but young enough to be able to live my own life, I wanted to write. Wholelifepoetry allows me to express my poetic side in my own unusual way. My favourite way of putting it is that I paint with words.
Motorhome Hobos is much more sensible – I am edited by my husband on this one apart from my Hobo Blog which he reads through semi-closed eyes! Hobos is an information site about getting into van life on a budget and what to do once you’re on the road. We also write about Van Life Health and Wellbeing and comment on our pilgrimages and spiritual journeys taken in the motorhome. We have had some amazing road trips within the British Isles.
And when I’m really off on one, I have Through-The-Glass.
I have written an e-book explaining dementia to children using child-friendly rhymes with explanatory text. (Why Doesn’t Granny Know Me Now?) And I am half way through another book about pilgrimages in a motorhome.
I feel that I can die in peace!
But what is a blog post about death doing on a poetry site? I write funeral poems! I write poetry about the pre-death loss of dementia. And I am mulling over more posts about dying and death as I have had to cut this one short. I could add so much!
If I prompt just one desperately needed conversation then I am happy.
Will I feel as comfortable discussing my own demise? Frankly maybe not. How will I feel about waiting for death? It’s not the fear of being dead that would hold me back, it’s not knowing the process that will carry me from one state to the next. But I’ll still be me, whatever stage I’m at. No hushed voices or awkward pauses required. Tell me about the new signing for the Town, about the kids’ mischief – just be you.
Just be you…and I’ll be me!
But there, I’ve spoken about it…opened the door a little…
The Open Door
It was a misty winter’s day, She walked up to the wall once more, But there was something there she’d not seen before… There had been no way through, Yet here, this time, was a door. She had sat here often in the past In the setting sun, hugged by the shadows cast by those Who had died, leaving her side forever. And by that wall she had cried, together only with her thoughts, Begging for their return, a harsh lesson to learn That the dead don’t come back, that it’s a one-way track. Yet sometimes despite her tears, a voice from down the years would ring out Her heart would hear a distant shout. An unearthly reminder, meant to find her Or maybe it was from behind her...from the world she knew. But today, there was a small way through, She pushed at it, it was the right thing to do For that door had not been there before – It was hers alone, returning her to an ageless home. And later, when they came to wait, they would not see her special gate. She’d send her shadow to say “I’ve not gone away at all” For she was there, through the door, on the other side of the wall.
Waiting For Death
Waiting for death She counted every breath, Would this…or the next…would be the last. Life had gone by too fast, Passed in a few moments of clarity, She felt sadness, anger, love and hilarity Like it was yesterday – yet here she was – Waiting for death How long was left? How would it feel to be no longer real… A memory that others would change, How strange their recollections, Reflections that would alter over the years, Their tears would become a fond smile, They’d think of her for a while But then let go. The children would never know her They’d grow without her And forget about her… Because here she was, Waiting for death. The great theft of time an unpunished crime But no-one is saved from the march to the grave. The baby is dying as soon as it’s born. Torn from its mother’s womb enroute to the tomb – Is there a meaning to it? Are we just dreaming through it? Is this existence a lie, you wake up when you die… Is life worth the fight – just go to the light and let go…. Then you’ll know… But not yet… She was waiting for death, Doing nothing but lying The great cleft between living and dying still sealed, Her body unhealed but alive…just Soon she’d be ashes and dust – but when? Until then She was waiting for death.
The prompt for this post was sitting with our dear friend Oddball as she gradually succumbed to the insistence of death. Hers was a good passing, in the home she felt safest, with the people who loved her. Rest in peace dear friend, trickster and opener of doors. 2007 – 2022.