I was recently asked to visit a dying patient in a large care facility. When I got there, I saw that the young man was unresponsive, sweaty and warm, his breathing had long 20 second pauses, and then raced to make 18 breaths a minute. These are all common signs of someone actively dying. It took me about 15 minutes to do a physical assessment, to determine if there was anything that could ease his way through this transition. I spoke to him about what I was doing and called him by his name. I placed cool compresses on his forehead to bring his temperature down. I sat with him, breathed with him and held his hand.
He was in a 4-bed ward, and the person on the opposite side of the room was listening to something loud on television. This roommate was also loud, nearly screaming when the aides came to do something for him. Though the lights were dim in our little corner, our neighbors lights were burning brightly. I thought to myself, “what kind of karma could put someone in a place like this, to die alone?” Then I thought of all the people who die on the streets, on battlefields, in horrific ways much worse than the way this man was dying.
The staff came by several times. Once they asked if there was anything they could do. I said it would be nice to have some comforting music playing to offset the noise from across the room. The TV at his bedside didn’t seem to change channels, so we weren’t able to find one of those ambient music stations. She brought a radio. I found an FM station that was nice for a while, but then the music changed, and just didn’t feel appropriate. The second time the staff came in, they were there to turn him. He had a large pressure sore bandage that had soaked through with blood and needed changing. They cleaned and changed the dressing in an efficient professional manner, then left the room. The last time the staff came in, they asked when I was leaving. My presence must have made them a little nervous. She said to me, “this is not my first rodeo with hospice.”
I had called our office for a vigil volunteer. These are volunteers that come to be a presence for someone who is dying. I felt he deserved that much. When she arrived her energy appeared to me to be someone ready for battle, rather than being a presence for someone laboring to let go of this body, and be free in Spirit. She asked me how the patient was doing, I said, “he is dying.” She said, “yeah, but how are his breath sounds?” We were interrupted by the fact that she needed to get something from her car, and she raced off.
Dying alone isn’t the worst thing that can happen to someone. Being cared for by well meaning people who are not trained in practicing the presence, isn’t the worse thing that could happen. But, perhaps, believing that you are all alone, separate from others, from spirit—to me, this might be one of the worse things that one might experience.
Of course we needn’t have such thoughts, if we are living consciously in spirit, as many of our waking hours as possible. I have often thought, “what makes life so precious anyway?” It isn’t the worries of daily life, the struggle to make ends meet, the loss of family, and friends. Yet all this will occur. In fact, I believe there are very few people on earth who actually believe life is precious, in particular their own.
We just finished a month long class on conscious aging. From this class has come a dedicated group of people who wish to commit more deeply to this practice of conscious aging.
Everything I have seen so far in this life tells me that there are precious beings in this world, but not all of life is precious. Yet this can’t be true! Why is it not true? What makes a murderer’s life precious? A scorpion’s life? A disease causing virus, or germ’s life, precious? I guess that without all of it, without the duality, none of it could exist.
Come join us in finding our answers to these and other questions—we will be meeting monthly to learn more about conscious aging. For more information please call or email.