I am reading a most informative book, Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying. If you are not familiar with this work, please get a copy. Much of what you experience as a hospice Chaplain will be affirmed. Also, your commitment to active listening will be challenged and deepened.
There are so many nearing death experiences that patients I served allowed me to know about that have provided encouragement and comfort, not just to me, but more especially to their loved ones. I recall Jim (name changed). He and I had a very deep conversation in his hospice journey. His wife, Jane (name changed), was not at all prepared for his death as she was very dependent upon him. This troubled Jim and he made that clear to me. I took mental note of this as it might be needed in upcoming days.
A few weeks from that conversation, I received a call from our hospice nurse. She asked if I could come over to Jim and Jane’s home as Jim appeared to be actively dying. I immediately went and when I arrived, Jane greeted me with tears streaming down her face and with the question, “What am I going to do without Jimmy?” We walked together to his bedside. It appeared that Jim’s remaining time was short. However, he did not die that day or the next or the next. There was something that kept him alive if only barely.
I was called back to Jim’s bedside one evening. It appeared that once again he had taken a turn for the worse. Yet, he refused to die. I asked to see Jane and her daughter who was now there to support her Mom. I told them of the conversation Jim and I had had a few weeks earlier. Jim, in my opinion, needed to hear from Jane that she would be ok after he died. They hadn’t had that conversation prior to him moving to active dying. I asked Jane if she could to tell Jim she would be ok. Jane’s daughter stood by her Mom and I was present with both of them as Jane spoke loving words to Jim and letting him know that she would be ok and that she would be moving in with her daughter. The finances would be taken care and for him not to worry. Within 5 minutes Jim died. After Jane told Jim these words, his body relaxed and his breathing no longer was labored. He passed peacefully knowing Jane would be ok.
Jane took advantage of our bereavement care and she was, indeed, on a path to comfort and inner peace. This experience informed my chaplaincy by showing me that love for a surviving spouse can be so powerful that the dying can refuse to die until they know their loved one will be ok. I am sure you have stories like this. I would like to hear them. Use the Comment section and we will publish your stories.