My first time alone since he died...
I have a patient who died a few days ago. During the weeks, days, and moments prior to his death, his entire team of caregivers, volunteers and even their cats, never left his side. There was not one moment that he was left alone. It offered his wife the feeling of comfort, being able to walk away when needed, knowing he was being cared for well, but also to be able to get much needed rest. I was incredibly proud of her for taking care of herself during this time and witnessed how present she was able to be for him when she returned to his bedside rested.
Anyone who has sat at the bedside of someone they love, knows what it means to go without rest, to be so tired you stop changing your clothes or showering, or eating, and forming sentences even becomes difficult. It is physically and emotionally draining but we wouldn’t want it any other way. The thought of stepping away or leaving, or even sleeping for a few hours, leaves us feeling as though we have abandoned them somehow. I get this.
Day after day, she and her incredible team sat vigil, providing him the care that offered him the chance to truly succumb to his dying process comfortably and without fear. Every day someone brought her food, helped with the house chores, and kept her distracted with music, and compassionate conversation.
And then he died. Thankfully it was peacefully with all who loved him surrounding his bed. Some stayed with her for a few days, some left shortly after. A few days later, I checked in to see how she was doing, and this was her response: “This is my first time alone.” I thought about this for quite some time, allowing that statement to really sink in. I asked her how that felt, and I asked her what she needed. She told me that the entire time they were all sitting vigil for him, she never wanted him to be left alone, because she never wanted him to feel abandoned, and now she was feeling abandoned, and she didn’t know what to do.
I went to see her that day and I took her for a walk, but before that, I reached out to her social worker and let her know about our conversation. She too reached out and was planning to see her later that day.
If you know anyone who has lost someone they love, please keep reaching out. There is a myriad of feelings they are experiencing and while the quiet might soothe some… it doesn’t soothe all. And if you know someone who is sitting vigil at a bedside and does not have that village, please check in... see if they need food, conversation, or maybe even just a shower or a nap. Not everyone has a group to support them, sometimes they don't want one, but what if they do?