As a hospice nurse I have the rare privilege of experiencing death.
When I first experienced a patient’s death I was stopped in my tracks and filled with awe.
There was an immense feeling of peace, silence and stillness in the room that crept in and quieted my mind. I was overwhelmed by the absolute inescapable nature and certainty of death.
My own mortality lay there in that hospital bed ready to be put into a bag and wheeled to the morgue—its usefulness gone, its job complete.
I once saw a brain dead man open his eyes and smile beatifically at the moment of his passing. His body appeared to lift up, every fiber of muscle tingling as the life that animated it dissolved into everything. His family and I stood speechless at his side.
Awe is the closest word I can find to describe what I felt in that room.
These early experiences with death ignited my curiosity, I wanted to know more.
What is this experience of death?
What lives on?
What is the great peace I feel when sitting with someone as they pass?
Is this peace what lives on as the body dies?
My curiosity has not wavered though my questions go unanswered.
These experiences have also led to a deep personal exploration of my own fear surrounding death, a fear that diminishes as I make friends with my own mortality.
Sometimes a death can help us see clearly.
Knowledge that the body is not the self comes to light in death.
Family members often say to me: “That’s not him anymore.” And they know it is okay to turn away from the body and let it go.
When I experience a death something in me dies too. All the busy chatter in my mind, all the concerns and worries of modern life simply cease and I am stripped to the core. I cannot help but to allow myself to feel the terrific pain of loss and simultaneously the peace—the absolute acceptance.
In these moments I have no identity; I am no longer a mother, wife or hospice nurse.
I am nothing.
A gentle low voice emerges to guide the still reeling loved ones.
In these moments I am privileged to know deep genuine human interaction.
We are simply experiencing this together; our ideas, ideals and beliefs all gone.
Well to do or on welfare; we are all the same.
Death is a gentle promise, a whisper of truth, a reminder of the temporary nature of things like bodies and ideas and beliefs.
Oh to be free of ideas and beliefs, what a grace.
Each time I experience a death and glimpse its peace I am changed.
Something deep inside grows more still and with each death the business of my mind comes back ever so slightly lessened.
For this I am grateful.
My time will come, of this I am sure, until then I cannot help but wonder and delight at the intrigue of life and death.
These seeming opposites color the world we see but perhaps, in quiet, we may come to understand that life and death are not opposites at all.
Perhaps, with courage and curiosity, we can overcome our fear and greet death warmly when our time comes.
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Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: Barbara Reddoch