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The Gifts Dying Can Give

July 24, 2015

By Barbara Karnes, RN

What beauty, strength, or gifts can death bring?

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and in our society today death is often not seen as beautiful or as a peaceful exit from a life well lived. We have medicalized death, demonized it and made it something to be feared. What we expect is what we will perceive so we see through the eyes of our fear.

Knowing the normal, natural progression the body takes to leave helps neutralize that fear. Once that fear is eased we can see and experience with a different view or perspective.


What will be seen beyond our fear is the body naturally letting go. Slowly, breathing changes, getting slower. The mind is withdrawn inward so there is very little response to voices or what is happening around and about them. Sometimes there may be agitation, a restlessness. There can be congestion in the back of the throat and upper lungs. If a catheter is not inserted there will be peeing and stooling the bed. All of this is normal, nothing bad is happening.

What are the gifts? For the patient the gift is not being hooked up to machines that are trying to prevent the inevitable. The gift is having those they care about close to them. If they are at home then the comfort of their own surroundings. Mostly because the person is so withdrawn and inward, the gift is the comfort a loving environment can give.

My mother lived with me the last five months of her life. Our relationship, as any relationship, had its ups and downs. During those last five months we became closer than we ever had been. It was an opportunity to be present with each other in a different way. It was a gift where love bloomed after it had faded.

I’m not saying caring for someone in the time before their death is easy. It is not. It is a lot of work. Physically, it is time intensive. Emotionally, it is draining and heart-wrenching.

What are the gifts for us, the watchers? The opportunity to say our final goodbye, to say what is in our heart and mind one last time, to touch into the grace of the experience.

If our fears have been neutralized and conquered when death has come and we supported and loved our person on their final journey, we can realize the gift we have been given.

About the Author

Barbara Karnes is an award-winning end-of-life educator and nurse who has been instrumental in creating the patient/family educational booklet for hospice. A former hospice nurse, director, and consultant, Barbara is the author of the booklets A Time to Live: Living with a Life Threatening Illness; Gone From My Sight: The Dying Experience; The Eleventh Hour: A Caring Guideline for the Hours to Minutes before Death; My Friend I Care: The Grief Experience; the book The Final Act of Living: Reflections of a Long Time Hospice Nurse and a family-oriented DVD/booklet kit New Rules For End of Life Care. She blogs at Something to Think About where a version of this post originally appeared.

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