“Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to die before you die and find that there is no death” Eckhart Tolle
As I begin to write this I am sitting on my front deck with my two beautiful companions, Lumi and Kaos, watching the neighbour hook up his trailer to leave for their annual camping trip. As I sit here sipping my coffee, his two boys, most likely ages 8 and 10, are running and jumping around the front of their property so excited for this epic camping trip. The cars and other trailers have arrived one by one as family and friends pull up to the house, obviously joining my neighbour for the trip. As each car and trailer arrives, the boys do a little dance which sets my Belgian Shepherd off and I have to stop him from running toward the reunion barking like a fool. As exciting as this little party is, it just pisses off Kaos as he doesn’t know who all these people are and in his mind I need protection from this frenzy of excitement. I pray he is just as brave during a real threat!
As the convoy of cars and trailers leave, my world goes quiet again and I return to my computer to muse over my writing. My intention was to write about death and suddenly my thoughts and words take on a different form. As I watched my neighbour’s family dance and felt the excitement in the air, I ventured back to the boys when they were that young and our annual camping trips. Life seemed to be so full back then, our lives intertwined with the boys lives as my husband and I wanted to share all of our knowledge and give them as much life as we could, because we both knew that time was short and if we didn’t give them our all, the time would be gone in an instant. Never before have I realized the depth of this as I sipped my coffee watching the scene across the street unfold before me. I realized without an ending there is no beginning and without death there is no life.
My mind wanders to my shift last night at the local hospice. I am part of an army of volunteers whose job is to help transition those facing their last breath over to the other side. Just looking at the previous sentence, it sounds and looks like a monstrous and depressing job, but it is not. Being at the hospice is like breathing in the air that we breath and it is as peaceful there as it is here, sitting on my deck sipping my coffee with the sun shining on my face and watching the leaves on my maple tree move from the odd breeze that sweeps through during this season’s hot spell. When I first inquired about volunteering at the local hospice, I admit I had an agenda. I had just become a Reiki practitioner and I wanted to use the knowledge and skill to help others. Using Reiki on the dying sounds like two opposites as Reiki uses the life force around each and everyone one of us to help those with varying ailments or in different stages of life. Many hospices have Reiki practitioners on hand to not only help the dying, but to help the grieving family members as well. To this date I have never used Reiki with any of the patients at the hospice. I have been asked to use my Reiki skills at different hospice events but I have not used Reiki on the hospice floor. However, my Reiki skills has given me an advantage when working with the dying. A Reiki practitioner is merely a tool to pass on the life force energy, just as a hospice volunteer is merely a tool to be an assuring presence to the dying. All volunteers are expected to take a 33 hour intense training program and essentially the program is meant to weed out people as not everyone is meant to do this job. The training is meant to help the volunteer with what to expect but until you start working at the hospice, you really have no idea how you will react or how you feel while visiting the dying.
Last night as I arrived at the hospice, I stood at the front lounge and took note of the two names on the stand by the nurses station, in behind the name tags were two butterflies lit up by a tiny bulb. The names represent the patients who have recently died. As I said a little prayer, I marveled over one name as I worked with this man the previous week, The date on the tag was the day before and, working with him the previous week, I didn’t think he would last that long. However, I noticed as I glanced over the volunteer log notes that he had a lot of family in visiting, every day he had visitors and I realized he lasted that long simply for love because his body was ready to give up the week before. I work at the hospice once a week and my shift is in the evening from 5:00 – 8:00 pm. I head to the hospice after a full day at work. I like the evening shift as so often family members of patients can’t get to the hospice in time for dinner. It is during dinner I find I am the most busy as some people need help to eat, others need to have their food cut up and some just want someone to listen to their complaints about the horrible state of the food. It is in this motion, life itself, that I hear and sense the most amazing stories that lie behind each and every patient. I find it ironic as I leave behind work and at work it seems that everyone is full of self importance in their position or their seniority or who they are. They worry if someone has a better parking spot or if someone gets something more than the other. At the hospice no one cares, everyone is the same and they are all facing the thing that we most fear; DEATH.
My conversations with the dying are more normal than my conversations with the living. I’ve come to realize the reason why is essentially the same as the approach my husband and I took with our boys when they were young – time is short and we wanted to give them all our knowledge and love because the moment would be lost in an instant. The dying face the same dilemma and what I have found is that most don’t want to hide from that fact with useless conversation filled with things that don’t matter. It’s interesting to me that I have dealt with all walks of life in the process of dying – doctors, lawyers, tradesmen, housewives, police officers and people without homes. The only reason that I have that knowledge is because of the volunteer logs and the volunteers usually find this out from family members. No one talks about what they did for a living when they’re dying and no one cares because what you did for a living has absolute no bearing on how or when you will die. What does matter is how you lived and how you loved. Dying essentially comes down to this; love and dignity and this is the reason why I volunteer for the Hospice Society. The Society recognizes dying as important as life itself and every person no matter of their origin or their beliefs are given what they need most – dignity and love.
Last night I was on the floor for about 30 minutes and I realized there was a new patient in the room where another patient died the day before. The nurses were trying to help him transition to his new surroundings and he was scared and agitated. There was no family member with him and he was too weak to be walking anywhere. He did not want to lie down for fear of dying and he kept trying to get up to go where I don’t know but he had two nurses working with him trying to calm him down. I asked if there was anything I could do and one of the nurses asked if I would sit with him. I did, I sat with him for most of my shift. He didn’t talk much, he just wanted the reassurance of someone there. I sat beside him at the edge of the bed the whole time and I kept suggesting that he would be more comfortable lying down and he refused to do so. Finally after sitting for quite some time, I noticed that his eyes were getting very heavy, I again offered to help him lie down, this time he accepted my offer. After I adjusted his pillows, his bed and bed rails, I sat beside him and he put his hand out to mine and he asked me to hold his hand as he fell asleep. As I held his hand I massaged his hand very gently hoping to give him a sense of peace.
I can only assume that holding his hand gave him the peace he needed as he became less agitated, his body then started to relax and he fell into a peaceful sleep. I sat with him for a little while longer to be sure he was asleep and then I tucked him in and went about the business of fussing with blankets and removing items from his bed and turning out lights. As I was fussing about, I thought somewhere this gentleman began his life with his mother holding him and assuring him that everything was ok and that he was protected. As he reaches the end of his life, he wants the same, he wants someone to sit with him and assure everything will be ok and that he is protected. It’s what we all want and as I drove home last night I thought about this and I realized every end has a beginning.