It is so very hard sitting beside someone we love as they become weaker and weaker and closer to dying. We are crying inside ourselves but not wanting to distress them with our emotions; we want to be truly there for them. I love the word ‘compassion’ as this comes from the Latin ‘cum passio’, to suffer with. Not unusually the time comes when we wonder why the person we are alongside is still breathing and to some extent suffering from utter helplessness, discomfort, and frustration as their disease progresses.
I remember visiting someone called Cate, as her doctor, each morning on the ward she was in. She was so ill, tired, and thin but with a great effort, she would acknowledge my presence. One morning she opened her eyes and cried: “Oh, another day to live through”. Cate had written her Will, planned her funeral service and seen all family members, expressing her love for them and yet she lived on. As she had a strong Christian faith and had requested prayer, I prayed with her when her family was also by her bed. We said to God, in prayer, that we released Cate from our love, from any need for her to struggle to stay alive for us, trusting she would continue to be fully enveloped in His love after she left us. She smiled and her daughter realised that, in grasping Cate’s hand, she was holding her back. She said to her Mum: “Mum, I love you so much but it’s alright to let go of your struggle to keep going for me. It is fine to relax and find the joy of being with Jesus in Heaven.” So, her daughter changed her grasp into a loving touch, which showed she was there for her Mum, but was not holding her back from what was to come.
A few minutes later, Cate’s chaplain called in. As he prayed for her, he anointed her with oil and commissioned her for life ahead in Heaven. As he did this, she let go and died so very peacefully.
Many people find that their loved one dies when they have left their room, despite nursing or medical staff thinking death was not imminent. Leaving them can, in some ways, ease the power of our restraining love and release them to die.
Dr Gareth Tuckwell