Everyone has seen one, right? In the dying scene of the movie, as the starlet lays in her unruffled bed, she appears slightly distraught as she gazes into the eyes of her loved one. As the camera slowly draws in, we see that her hair and make-up are flawless. In fact, she’s never looked better. Her voice sounds weak as she speaks, but her words are powerful as she shares a secret or admits the truth, or finally says she’s sorry. Whew, it was almost too late for these important words! She then gently closes her eyes and drifts off to the here after.
While this scene can be very entertaining, it does not depict life as it is when coming to completion. In fact, I am sure that it could hardly be any further from the truth of what dying looks like in reality. But unfortunately, this may be the only time many of us have ever seen a person dying, so we believe the depiction. And worse yet, become very disappointed with reality, if not down right disturbed and distraught when the dying of a loved one looks one iota different.
Without exaggeration, I have witnessed hundreds of deaths. Each one as unique as the person, yet there were common threads. It has been in these last days, hours and minutes of life that I was honored to witness the miracle our human body truly is. Like a universe, our form is comprised of systems that are in communication with each other and that appear to be in perfect harmony as well. In fact, the meaning of the word “universe” is “one song”. The various systems (circulatory, GI, urinary, etc) are team members of the one being. In real life then, we see what I refer to as the “shut down” process. Hospice calls it, “active dying”. Those of us witnessing the dying will see signs of the systems shutting down in the form of breathing pattern changes, color changes to the skin, perhaps an increase in body temperature, as well as many other visible changes. It has always appeared to me as though the process begins with one system that starts the “shut down” process and sends out a message to the other systems. Something to the tune of, “Okay, I’m shutting down over here”. Then the other systems follow suit.
Witnessing our loved one transition from life can be frightening, and the signs can be difficult to watch, especially if we do not understand what we see. It can be easy to misinterpret the signs as problems or even believe that our loved one is suffering–when in reality, nature is simply taking its course. As difficult as it may be to believe, our body already knows how to die. In fact, it needs very little help and certainly no intervention.
So you may be wondering what needs to be done when your loved one is nearing the end. Only what we have always done, and only what has always been desired of us all. At end of life, our loved one wants our love, comfort and presence.
The scene may not be movie picture perfect, but life never is. Yet it is.
For more information about the dying process, read Dying Made Easy(er), chapter 9, How a Body Dies.