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.
I have sat at the bed side of dear friends , as well as my mother, as they made their transitions. Also stayed at bedside after life has left. I have done final hair styles,nails make-up and tho very painful ,I would never trade the experience.
I did this for my father, mother, aunt and uncle. So hard, but I was able to do this when my sister could not.
I got a call sometime ago it’s been a few years now. It was a cousin I haven’t spoken to for many years. Sadly our family is not real close my aunt was in the hospital. My parents live out of state and because of weather could not make it. I was asked if I could go and be there with her. I did and spoke with my dad in route about the situation. Arrangements were made so that she can speak with my parents villa FaceTime over the iPad screen. This was very good for everyone present. She got to talk with her brother and other family members. Some left and took a break, because of her condition I stayed trying to comfort her just by holding her hand or rubbing her feet or her legs. She was in pain and suffering and was dying. No one should die alone. A nurse came in after a few hours and said she was resting and that I could go home. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t see her again alive. The next morning I called and learned that her son and grandson had come back to be with her and they were with her during her last few moments. I was relieved to hear that.
Even though I did not know well, I know that my parents especially my dad was glad that I was there representing him. He is one that has difficulties with these types of life situations.
I am glad that I could be with her, and help the family.
Lou Reynolds says
Oh my goodness. I am just discovering I am an hsp so I feel like I am having loads of light bulb moments where I realise I understand myself better. This happened to me two years ago at the side of my Grandmother, who was the only person other than my mum, who had been there all the way through my childhood. I traveled from Scotland to visit her and she died just in the short visit. She wasn’t expected to die at this point. I felt very lucky I had been there to be with her. I had no question I wanted to be with her in hospital as she died, I couldn’t imagine not being there. My mum and I shared our last words before she went unconscious but she didn’t die for another 20 hours. I sat with my grandmother holding her hand and for some reason felt that singing was what was needed. My grandmother had loved music and the opera and I had got this love from her, so I sang to her. It felt very special.
I did however struggle in the night when my mum left me with her and she started to foam at the mouth, as she was dieing from Pneumonia and i sensed she was uncomfortable and no-one came to help. I found this very distressing. We managed to make her more comfortable and my mum returned. She passed away peacefully with her two children just after I had left the room to go and get a cup of tea. This article was reassuring that we make it ok for them to then pass away without us.