As I write this, a family member is in his final hours. Hospice is involved. He’s being kept comfortable, and family is nearby at all times.
Far distant, I’m unable to do anything except pray, which I have. And talk to my friends, which I’ve also done.
After I finished complaining about some of the SNAFUs that had gone on with this person’s care, a friend who is a nurse spoke to me about some of the issues surrounding end of life care. That’s a cold way to say it, of course. They’re not really “issues” when it’s someone you know. In her opinion, though, doctors don’t really know how to deal with dying. They’re geared toward fighting death, not allowing it to happen peacefully and gently.
The conversation turned toward hanging on, toward how some people stick with living even after they’ve made the decision to move to palliative care. Which brought us to something we both already thought: that for some, death is intensely private.
By which I mean not that we go through it solo (which we do) but rather that some people want solitude when they make that transition, and that until they have their solitude, they wait. Like a cat having kittens, they want to find their dark place and curl up. Or, in fact, the way my own cat sought her quiet, solitary spot when she knew she was dying.
We both knew of people (her firsthand, me thirdhand) who had waited through weeks of constant vigilance by a spouse or a sibling only to cross over when the person left for half an hour. To get a haircut; to get a shower: these people waited until their loved one had stepped away in order to slip away themselves.
I’ve spoken before about introverts and extraverts. Maybe extraverts need to be surrounded by loved ones in order to be supported in death. But maybe some of us introverts need to be alone, to fully draw into ourselves in order to be ready for what happens next. Maybe we die the same way we’ve lived.
I’m not advocating leaving the dying alone. Of course not. People need love and support, but maybe sometimes, after they feel loved and supported enough, people will then feel strong enough to wait until they can do it themselves, in their own way.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.