What meaningful encouragement can be given to someone who is dying?

Theirs is a lonely journey; to be moving towards the separation and end of all things known and loved.

Being with a dying person is challenging; it penetrates through discomfort seeking honesty and courage. It brings you confrontationally into the present which is shocking for many. But if you spend time with the dying you’ll find that their needs are not so different from ours, only they have a limited time to fulfill them.

A dying person needs to be heard, comforted and forgiven. A dying person yearns to connect with the world they are leaving behind. A dying person needs to make peace with the life they have lived. A dying person needs to be encouraged and allowed to say good-bye. If we while living, could be mindful of all that we will inevitably wish to have fulfilled when our time comes, dying would not be so difficult. The more we contemplate dying, the easier it is to be ready to die.

Supporting my husband while he was dying was terrifying at first. I was always anxious from the uncertainty and exhausted from having too many responsibilities. I felt trapped in a bubble with no future; I wasn’t dying or living, just ‘on hold’ waiting for the end. Staying positive and alert became my new occupation. But, somehow I got used to it. I stopped feeling helpless and learned how to become attentive to JP’s every need. Somehow he was so grateful for every little thing I did that I thought he was comforted to be going through it together. The truth is, dying people travel towards death alone and with each breath almost imperceptibly, they move out of your reach leaving you behind.

JP lived every day knowing how he wanted to die; serving others and conscious of the Divine. Since he was already doing both, he wasn’t caught off guard when the diagnosis came. He simply looked at me and said, “I just wish I didn’t have to leave you yet”. For years he had been developing a spiritual compass which now guided and helped him to navigate the challenges of cancer treatment, pain and physical deterioration. Knowing he had incurable brain cancer drove him to dive deeper into his meditation and spiritual practices and accelerated his determination to be poised mentally and emotionally to pass gracefully from this world.

There were often moments of course when he was scared, despondent and tired of hanging on, but he always emerged from the bad moments more surrendered to the journey and they became resources and realisations to share with others. In the end, the best way I could support him was to ensure that he could die the way he wanted to; still serving others and constantly meditating on the Divine.

It’s been 3 years since JP left and I’m much less resistant to the painful memories. I’m learning to treasure them because they are part of our story and I want to remember and embrace all of it. As I continue to meditate on and describe the final, most difficult pages of our story, I know I will uncover the beauty and fullness of meaning in his passing. It will illuminate my life and I hope yours too.

Now, when I remember my husband’s life and death, I remember an inspiring story that had a beautiful ending.

Taruni Tan is a music therapist. 

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  • James deMaine

    Thank you so much for sharing how you and your husband faced such a difficult time.  It seems like your love for each other has transcended time and space – and that your bond continues.  It’s a wonderful reminder to doctors and nurses that there’s so much comfort and care we can continue to give even though we can no longer cure.  For a story of one of my dying patients pleas see http://www.endoflifeblog.com/2010/04/one-more-trip-to-guam.html

    Again thank you for reminding us that life and love can continue beyond our earthly presence.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1514791985 Taruni Tan

      Thank-you for the openhearted and compassionate caring and observations James. Your patients are blessed to have you for their physician. If I can help any of your patients and especially spouses who may be grieving, let me know. I blog here at wishfulangels(dot)com.

  • petromccrum

    You were fortunate to have such a graceful and dignified end of life experience.  Unfortuneatly most of us can’t say the same. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1514791985 Taruni Tan

      Yes, I am very very grateful for the way my husband’s life ended and you are so right, for many it is not graceful or dignified or even understood. But I think we can do something to change that if we can bring conversation about death into the open and make it an integral part of our living. Thanks for reading and please stay in touch with me at http://www.wishfulangels.com 

  • davemills555

    Part of the process of life is dying. End of life heroics has no place if it’s only to maintain a vegetative state. The doctor is the best person to decide whether there’s hope for recovery or not. Better yet, a panel of doctors making the decision is better. The family needs to allow professionals to make these decisions. We need better standards regarding when to end the heroics. Call it “death panels”, call it anything you want. When a health professional or a panel of doctors says it’s over…that should be the final say!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1514791985 Taruni Tan

      Accepting that death is part of life is the key here…Individuals need to come to terms with their inevitable dying, well before they become ill or receive a diagnosis so they can be empowered to facilitate themselves to die and find acceptance for themselves and with their loved ones. Doctors are part of that process, but not the choreographers. 

  • Rex Lamb

    Sometimes I find that I can reach a sense of comfort or peace when life get rough by listening to the message carried in a song. We have created some music with these kind  of messages for the dying and those that are close to them. I hope this helps someone. http://www.lambshope.com

  • SamBlaine

    It is so important that people who are dying be allowed to experience the spiritual growth and the bonding with loved ones as part of their final good-bye with a death in its own timing. Sadly, medical professionals in their hurry to end what they view as suffering cut this process short. Let’s not forget that those dying in the Twin Towers reached out to their loved ones by cell phone when they knew they were dying.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1514791985 Taruni Tan

      Thank-you for reading Sam…I hope we can make changes in our healthcare systems and be empowered individually and as a society to contemplate the dying process and see it’s power to shape our lives.

  • StephenModesto

    …Thank you for your personal sharing with the nameless many who read this site. It was also a benevolent blessing for both you and your husband that you are music therapist. Sadly, there are not many people who have the opportunioty to involve themselves with family mambers as were enabled to.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1514791985 Taruni Tan

      You are so right in your observation Stephen, my husband and I were blessed and I try to remember this daily so I can bring appreciation and gratitude into my life for how we experienced his dying. We have a lot to learn and to change as a society about how to facilitate the dying process. 

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