Finding meaning in the last day of life…
by Valerie Hartman
This holiday season, as our own hospice team makes visits in our community, we are particularly attentive to families losing loved ones on or near the actual date of a holiday.
Hospice workers carry a humble respect for the feelings that come with holiday loss.
Whether death occurs on a holiday or not, it is often common for the death date, the time of death, or the circumstances around the moment of death, to signify a meaning that is personal and symbolic to the family.
This can happen when a last breath is taken on…
- An anniversary date;
- A birth date;
- A holiday, or around a holiday date;
- Another family member’s death date;
- The same day a favorite plant in the house blooms;
- The day of regular spiritual worship; for instance, a Sunday; or
- Alone, in a brief few moments between a long family vigil;
- Just after an awaited family member arrives at the bedside;
In my early work as a nurse’s aide I remember vividly the quiet passing of an 80-year-old woman. She was alone; she had no remaining family. The staff found out through the power of attorney that she died two hours after her very best friend died three states away on the same day. Learning about that, somehow softened the concern for her isolation at the end of her life and gave her death an additional meaning.
This writing is to honor that moment of last breath, a time that is quiet and sacred in the hospice experience. The last breath is a moment in hospice care that is almost always promised to be a gentle slowing down of air exchange, moments filled with stillness. Difficult, yes, as that moment is an exchange of freedom or release for our loved one, and the start of fresh grief in that loss for family members, dear friends.
As the New Year begins, our hospice team wishes peaceful moments and some comfort in the workings that surround the last days and last breaths of life, for you and your loved one.