An important thing I learned while working with hospice was that the dying didn’t need me hauling any more heavy emotions into the room. At all. They had plenty enough of their own to deal with, not to mention all those generated by the loved ones surrounding them, and while all those emotions were natural and perfectly appropriate, they were weighty. Very. In fact, if they were barometric pressure, the skies would be swollen, threatening, and dark. Nobody needed me tossing some of the more typical reactions to dying…sadness, pity, horror?…into the mix, too.
What they did need was help. Calm and guidance were good and cheerfulness was like a cherry on top.
It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it what it looks like, the kind of emotional buoyancy that helps most in the homes of the dying. It’s not that I behaved like a game show host or anything. It wasn’t a cheerfulness born out of summer carnivals and silly pranks, first love and hot pants.
Although I did usually fall in love with them, these people who were allowing me into their lives at a time when they were fragile and reeling, and the loving of them made me happy. I also cared about what was happening to them, deeply. I knew they were suffering and I wanted to do whatever possible to ease the journey they were on, to lessen their fear.
But mostly I was cheerful because I felt really, really lucky to be there at all.
It’s not easy to gain access to the dying, a fact that most people don’t realize because they don’t want access. But if they did they’d soon find there are more barriers in place around the dying than at almost any other stage of life. Part of this is due to a tendency on the part of overwhelmed loved ones to circle the wagons against anyone who’s not absolutely necessary. Another part is due to the fact that dying people just don’t get out much. But mostly access is challenging because our society quarantines the dying in powerful, unconscious, and insidious ways, not only making it harder for them to be seen (and thereby remind us of things we don’t want to be reminded of), but also making it more difficult for those of us who want to, to find and reach them.
I felt profoundly lucky to reach them, every time, to be allowed into the chamber from which they were preparing to take their departure. I discovered a host of amazing people cradled and waiting in an equally amazing, intermediate world.
I often felt like I’d stumbled into some secret society where the mystery of the ages was finally revealed. And I had a ring side seat. It reminded me of the two magical days when I spread my legs and watched a trembling, wide-eyed babe slip into the world. Only opposite. Because at both ends of the spectrum the same magical portal appears, briefly opening to allow life’s safe passage between this dimension and some other. And I was equally spellbound whether that life was a-coming or a-going.
To me, it seemed miraculous either way.
copyright 2010 Dia Osborn