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holy ground

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Over the last three days I’ve spent a fair amount of time at the bedside of an 83-year old women who is slowly dying. But until she’s dead, she’s alive. Such a simplistic thing to say, yet it catches the essence of hospice end-of-life care. Lying there, seemingly unresponsive in a sleep-like state, she continues to live and can count on our care. What’s so remarkable about sitting with her is the level of intimacy. If I wasn’t so clear of my intentions, I could easily feels that I’m invading her privacy. After all, she has no say in my presence, cannot give or withhold permission as I stroke her hand, place a cooling cloth on her burning face, adjust her blankets, and lower the shades to keep the spring sun from heating up her room.

img_0995Legally, I suppose, she gave “implied consent” when she came to us, permission to do what would be needed to manage her pain and support her journey towards death. Still, I treat each moment of closeness with references and respect. I speak to her, whether she can hear me, respond, or not. They say that the sense of hearing is the last to fail us as we near death. So I say “good morning” as I enter her room, and “may I open the window a bit so you can feel the air and hear the Spring birds?”

I take nothing for granted. To respect her privacy, I don’t reach across her body but walk around it. When I place something on her bed or move a chair closer, I say so first. When the flowers on the night table look droopy, I say that they need their ends cut and the fresh water refreshed before I go ahead. Her bed is her last refuge, the relatively tiny rectangle where she’ll spend her last days, where it takes two nurses to turn her every four hours to avoid bedsores; where medicine is injected through “sites” temporarily attached to her parchment skin, each plastic adhesive with dates and times written on them in felt pen; where meal trays have stopped coming; where her adult children gather each day (leaving aside their disagreements), and where three teenage grandchildren came last night to say good-bye and thank-you to their gran … where her bed has become Holy Ground.


3 responses »

  1. Kate Edwards

    ah, such beautiful words to read here on this rainy day in Wisconsin……..may I add my prayers and blessings to your work and to this holy ground.

  2. I’ve been away from hospice for several week because of a nasty bug, but now that I’m feeling better, I will be returning to my volunteer work soon. In the meantime, it is lovely to be able to read your gentle, mindful observances of how it is to be with people in their final days. Thank you for the honest words you share, both here on your blog and out in the real world.


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