I am often asked why someone is taking so long to die, especially when they have gone days without food or water, they are no longer responsive, and with or without medications, they have settled into their dying process while everyone waits. Sometimes impatiently.
I will say to them, “the body knows what to do, and we need to trust that.” I believe this, and it can usually comfort those at the bedside who are waiting day after day, exhausted, sometimes frustrated, and in many ways have put their grief on hold because it has become too hard to sit with those emotions day after day. They continue waiting, trusting the process, knowing that their person will eventually let go and find peace.
But sometimes they cannot accept this answer and they struggle with the “why?” This is when I share my thoughts, which goes to a deeper, more emotional, or spiritual place. You see, I have a theory that when someone is dying, there is a certain sense of awareness they still have, and before they can truly let go, they need to make peace with their past, perhaps let go of some guilt or regret, but also, I think they need to say goodbye to the life they had. This takes time, especially if they are in their eighties or nineties, that is a lot of life to say goodbye too.
But what about the younger ones, those who die way too soon, who don’t have a long life to say goodbye too, what are they holding on for? Why are they taking so long? This one is harder to answer, and sadly, I have witnessed this many times. Perhaps they are trying to make peace with having less time, finding gratitude for the life they did have, while also savoring life just a little bit longer, even if not fully present for it.
I was speaking to a man whose mother held on for many days. Ten days prior to her death, I told him she could let go in a matter of hours or days, neither could be predicted, but I honestly thought it would be hours. I spoke with him every single day, and despite the length of time this was taking, he welcomed my thoughts, and embraced the idea that she needed time to reflect. We decided that this waiting period was a soul review, an opportunity to revisit the past, finding purpose in the life she lived, the choices she made, and the people she loves.
I imagine them doing an anointment of sorts for their body, thanking it for everything it did for them…
Their brain for their thoughts, creativity, decisions.
Their eyes for all they have seen.
Their mouth for the words they have expressed.
Their heart for the love they have given, and the love they have received.
Their arms for the hugs they have welcomed and those that they extended.
Their hands for the work they have done, and the comfort they have provided.
Their legs and their feet for holding them up and supporting them.
And once they have finished their soul review, extending gratitude for a life they were gifted, and making peace with their last goodbye, they can finally let go.
The truth is though, and I continue to stand by this as well, the body does know what to do. We can intervene with medications to reduce symptoms and suffering, and we can provide verbal and tactile stimuli for comfort, support, and a feeling of safety, but at the end of the day, the timing of when the body finally let’s go, is not about us. And that is what we must find a way to make peace with.