Updated: Feb 15, 2020
I was sitting with the wife of a man who was hours away from taking his last breath. She was nervous, emotional, and scared. After spending a short amount of time with him, I knew that noise distracted him and I had a feeling he wanted privacy when he passed. I could have been wrong, I had been wrong before, but I have learned to trust my instincts and I usually act on them with positive results. This time was a perfect example. His wife kept taking phone calls at his bedside, and because she was a little hard of hearing, she would put friends and family on speakerphone telling each one the details of his personal dying process. I watched as he became more agitated with each phone call. She made phone call after phone call telling each person what was going on, discussing the plans for his funeral service and inviting each one over to come see him before he goes. I believe her heart was in the right place, but sometimes people don’t understand what the person laying there might be experiencing and what they might hear or feel. I ask myself frequently who I think I am telling someone else how to be present at the bedside of someone I have only known a very short time, but I also consider myself an advocate and I try to say that one right thing that might just bring everyone a little more peace.
Regardless of how responsive someone is, or sedated or near death I believe they hear everything. It’s almost as though their hearing ability is enhanced and so I have become very sensitive to that. I encourage people to not whisper at the bedside or even a few feet away, or talk about them to others, as they lay there unable to ask them to be quiet or be able to chime in with their own thoughts or feelings.
I asked his wife to take a walk with me for a bit and I very gently explained that dying is a very private experience and while all who love him are affected, it is ultimately his experience and he deserves to be given privacy, dignity and respect. I suggested she keep the phones out of his bedroom and allow the time at his beside to be spent reminding him how loved he is, how missed he will be and that she will be okay and to give him permission to let go.
I let her know that sometimes, people do not want an audience when they are going through their process, in fact some have been known to take their last breaths when everyone left the room, even after only just a few minutes. So I suggested they keep the friends visits short and give those last few hours to his family members. I reminded her that these moments don’t get a do over, you only get one chance to say goodbye.
That night she sent everyone home. She pulled together the four family members and each took a private moment at the bedside to say goodbye. They left the room to have some dinner and when she went back in to check on him, he has passed away.