We all know death is inevitable. Yet, we live as if we are immortal. My recent experience with my mother's dying and death, and the death of three dear friends have caused me to pause and ponder my own mortality. How will those last moments, hours, and days preceding my death be experienced? How would I like to experience those final moments in this lifetime?
To witness my mother's dying and death with my sisters was the most profound experience I have ever had. From this experience, I learned how I want to die - surrounded by a loving family and friends, in a supportive, comfortable space.
My two sisters and I were given this beautiful gift to be with our mother the final 5 days of her life. "Living" our mother's dying was a painful yet inspiring and bonding time, as family and friends came together reflecting on her life and all she gave us during her 83 years. It was a time to reminisce, review past life experiences, cry, and laugh together. A very tender, precious time for us - to be able to hold her hand; to hold each other; to stroke her brow; to bathe and lotion her body; and to talk to her about our memories, hopes, and fears.
Mom was unresponsive the last 3 days of her life. However, we filled her room with poetry, songs, and meditations, taking her back to the white, sandy beaches of Indonesia where she had traveled and worked as a young journalist. We allowed space for each of us to spend some private time with Mom and alternated spending the night with her so she was never left alone. We do not know if she heard us, but it helped us to bring closure.
In this issue, Wilson and Daley's exploratory study to identify family perspectives of death and dying in long-term care settings (pp. 19-25), very accurately defines the essential ingrethents needed to assist families in the dying process. Those ingredients are:
* A caring, supportive staff at the adult family home who gave us the space, privacy, and flexibility to come and go as we pleased, yet taking into consideration the impact of this event on the other residents of the home.
* Full participation of family in the care of a loved one's physical, social, and spiritual needs as well as her after-death care.
Fortunately for me and my sisters, those aspects were experienced fully.
There are numerous, simple ways staff can be helpful during this difficult time, whether in a large nursing home setting or a small adult family home. My experience with my mother's death reinforces the findings of Wilson and Daley (pp. 19-25 in this issue)- the importance of caring behaviors of staff, participation in the dying process, being present at the time of death, and provision of spiritual support, which are all critical aspects to be considered during the dying process.
It is critical that staff provide space and privacy for family and friends to participate in the dying process. Family members need to know that staff is there to supplement the care and love they are providing and to answer questions which may arise regarding the dying process. Assistance by staff in palliative care, demonstrating techniques which promote comfort, are most helpful and reassures family members about their own ability to provide this tender care.
If one could dare to describe a "perfect" death, I would offer that we had all the vital ingrethents needed to help us share the last moments of my mother's life in a peaceful, tender, private, and respectful way. To be able to fully live Mom's dying and death is a gift I will cherish forever.