On being with Dying, On being with Compassion

This is How Positive Change Happens…

Last week, I happened upon this writing I did on Jan 24, 2004. During that time, I was preparing to apply for doing my Masters in Counselling Psychology. I decided to do some volunteer work to strengthen my application. At that time, I was also at the early stage of learning about developing mindfulness and compassion in my life. So, with those factors together, I decided to volunteer at a hospice. Here’s one of my profound experiences I had at that time that I’m still deeply grateful for today:

On being with Dying, On being with Compassion:

My Hospice Experience

In the past two months, I’ve been enriched by the experience of volunteering at a hospice in Vancouver. While doing this delicate and sacred work of being present with people who are at the end of their lives, it has been very helpful to practice of mindfulness and compassion. The practice of mindful breathing has helped me to stay connected to myself as I face some of my own fears about death and dying while I worked with people in hospice care.

One day when I arrived for my shift, I was told by the staff that an elderly man I had been with briefly the week before was in the final stages of the dying process. The staff asked me to sit with him and suggested that I massage his feet. Sitting with a person who is actively dying is an experience I’d never had in my life. Since this was such an unknown for me, I felt some fear arise within me. I acknowledged my fear and stayed present with myself. I was able to be centred because I was willing to remain honest and be my own best friend while I prepared to be a friend to someone in need.

I walked down the fall and quietly entered the man’s room. I felt drawn to sit by his side on bed and hold his hand. As I held his hand, I caressed every one of his fingers. This little hand was so beautiful and precious. The image and the sensations of being with this man and holding his hand is so vivid to me now because I was truly present with him at that time. I practiced mindful breathing and bringing myself back to the present moment while I sat with him as he cycled through his unique and precious dying process. I felt waves of compassion for him and allowed myself to feel some of his pain and suffering at this intimate moment of his life.

Sitting with him also helped me to gain some valuable perspective on some of the conflicts in my life that I felt caught up in. These conflicts now seemed so devoid of significant meaning as I sat with him in this shared sacredness. I was able to let go of some of my attachment to suffering in my own life by being with someone else in theirs. I felt more connected to that which is truly important in life by sitting with someone who was dying. By being with this man who was dying, I was experiencing how to better live.

As I prepared to leave this sweet man, I was aware that I was saying “goodbye” to him and I wanted to be present to that experience, both for him and for myself. I thanked him from the depth of my heart for giving me the opportunity to be with him. I felt love, compassion, and respect for this person about whom I knew so little. I wished him true peace on his journey. As I left the hospice that day I felt more peace on my journey too…with my heart expanded and deepened into being more fully alive.