Companions on the journey, accompanying the dying.

As caregivers, we are sometimes required to accompany the dying on their final journey. At those times, it is important that we welcome everything  and push away nothing. In welcoming everything, we don’t have to like what’s arising. It’s actually not our job to approve or disapprove. It is our task to trust, to listen, and to pay careful attention to the changing experience. At the deepest level we are being asked to give up fear, trusting in the greater plan for all of us. We have no idea how this journey will turn out, and it takes courage and flexibility to companion the dying.

Bring your whole self to the experience. In the process of healing others and ourselves we open to both our joy and fear. In the service of this healing we draw on our strength and helplessness, our wounds and passion to discover a meeting place with the other person. Professional warmth doesn’t heal. It is not our expertise but the knowledge of our own suffering that enables us to be of real assistance. That is what allows us to touch another human being’s pain with compassion instead of with fear and pity.

Don’t have a “waiting” mindset; patience is different than waiting. When we wait, we are full of expectations. When we’re waiting, we miss what this moment has to offer. Waiting for the moment of death, we miss so many moments of living.

Find a place of rest in the middle of things. We often think of rest as something that will come when everything else is done. We imagine that we can only find rest by changing the conditions of our life, like when we go on a holiday. But it is possible to discover rest right in the middle of chaos. It is experienced when we bring our full attention, without distraction to this moment, to this activity. This place of rest is always available. We need only turn toward it. It’s an aspect of us that’s never sick, is not born, and does not die.

Cultivate a “don’t know” mind. This describes a mind that’s open and receptive. A mind that is not limited by expectations, and what we think we know.  In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few. From this vantage point we realize that not knowing is a blessing. Understanding this we stay very close to the experience allowing the situation itself to direct our actions. We listen carefully to our own inner voice, sensing our urges, trusting our intuition. We learn to look with fresh eyes. A true and compassionate companion sees each patient and each family member as a unique and individual being. We must stay open to be taught their needs.