Originally published in Comfort Zone Newsletter: March 2014
When I wrote the 60 or so items that eventually became the 27 items of the HSP Scale, the title of this article was one of the items. Obviously I wrote it because I thought HSPs would be likely to agree with it, and I was right. I don’t recall now the reason we did not include it, but I think it captures something larger about us.
Of course, not every HSP is comfortable in this situation. Further, if the dying person is a very special person to you, for example a child or a partner, it will be unique to that relationship. The ability to be with the dying is simply a tendency of ours. Perhaps it is the “priestly advisor” part.
I have sometimes joked that when the king is lying on the battle field with a mortal wound, astounded that this could be happening to him, he calls for his priestly advisor—priest, shaman, Brahmin, or whomever (and I have said before that often the persons given these trusted positions were probably HSPs). The king knows this is the person who can explain the meaning of it all.
More likely, an HSP would try to help the king find his own meaning of it all. I suppose the reason we are comfortable in that role is partly our empathy, those highly active mirror neurons you will soon know more about. Perhaps it is also our preference for deep conversation. Very often at the bedside of a dying person, the chit-chat ends, or at least the person wishes it would end. Sometimes the person doesn’t know it, but still needs it to end. Nervous people not knowing what to say will go on and on, but the person who can go deep is the person needed at that moment.
I think HSPs also understand something I heard said in a course on tending the dying: “Each person needs to have what is, uniquely for him or her, an appropriate death, not an appropriated death.” That is, others often think they know how the dying person ought to die—with or without “setting things right” with estranged family members, with or without resuscitation or pain medications, with or without others around, at home or not, with prayers and music or not. These should be decided by no one but the dying person, and HSPs are much better at understanding this and finding out what the person wants.
I think to myself, “Is this subject too morbid for CZ?” Then I remember the above item and how HSPs tend to answer it. This is not morbid to us. We are drawn to the depths of the soul and to the mysteries of life and what lies beyond it. We are willing to be present. To hold hands, massage the feet, listen to the breathing, and wait for the moments of consciousness and the desire or thought whispered from the border between life and death. We can’t handle hours and hours of it. No one can. But we often know especially well when to be present and when to go rest, and how to make it okay that, if the person dies before we see him or her again, there will be no important things left unsaid.
Obviously I have had a recent experience of this—in fact, of an HSP doing this for someone I love and whom I cannot be with. But I have had my own experience at the bedside of others. If you have not had such an experience, it will come, and you will feel your strange, surprising strength. I have tried to explain it here, but can’t really. It is simply part of who most of us are.