When our last breath is taken
Updated: Oct 15
I was sitting with a woman who was days before her death, fully conscious and aware of everything she was feeling and experiencing. She said to me, "can I share with you what this feels like?" I said yes, of course. I am always curious about the hours, days, and moments that lead to the very last breath, and what it must feel like for the person who is dying.
She first asked me to tell her what I thought it might be like, wondering if after witnessing as many last breaths as I have, that I might have my own interpretation, and how it might compare to what she was feeling. I had to think about it for a minute or two, going back in time to some of the deaths I have been present for, especially the ones that stood out most, and while I have seen many, over a thousand, only three have actually shared with me what it feels like. For the others, I based my thoughts on their facial reactions, body movements, and the sounds of their breath as it was slowing down.
I told her that most of the people I have been present for at death are non-responsive, or cognitively impaired and are unable to verbalize what they are feeling with any sense of clarity. So while some have shared with me, most of my opinions relative to what they are experiencing is just an assumption on my part. But whether they can speak or not, I truly believe that there is a sense of awareness that comes to someone moments before their last breath. Perhaps it is an energy they feel, a sense of peace or calm that wafts through them like a soft and gentle breeze. I believe that pain, regardless of how much of a struggle it has caused them, leaves before the last breath is taken, and my reason for that is because I truly believe that when death comes, the body makes peace with it and let's go.
I do think there is a sense of fear that some might feel, but I also think that it leaves in enough time for that person to know it is gone, trusting the journey will be gentle regardless of the path that led them there.
I think it is the ones who are more conscious, and who are fully present for their experience, that feel more deeply what it means to die. I imagine their life flashes by them in slow motion, taking them down their own memory lane, and the life they lived, the people they loved, and the mistakes they made, as though they are asking God, the universe, or spirit to please give them the gift of peace and acceptance as they prepare to let go. I imagine that it is in those last moments when forgiveness, either of self or others, is amongst the last thoughts, hoping perhaps that they are given permission not to take them with them when they go.
I stopped for a moment and paused. She said, "is there more?" I said, "yes... I think when we are that close to death, everything that has caused us distress, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, is removed, the slate has been wiped clean, and we gently cross the finish line of life taking with us the knowledge that we did the best we could, and that comforts me."
She said, "this sounds to me like all the deaths you have experienced have helped you make peace with your own death, is that true?" I realized that is exactly how I felt. I honestly have no idea what it feels like to die, and I think there is no right or wrong way, just your way and my way, death happens and our lives end. And yes, I have made peace with that, and I am not afraid... I am just not ready yet. I want more time.
And then she said, "and that is exactly how I feel... I want more time, but I am at peace with the time I have had, and like you said, I do believe I did the best that I can, and I have no regrets. My life has flashed by me, you are right about that. I find myself savoring all of it again, mentally saying goodbye to it, the memories, and the people. I find myself feeling gratitude. I am ready to die Gabby, and I want you here with me when I go."
When she took her last breath, I watched her eyes gently close, her skin soften, and her body lean into the ending of her life with such grace. She said goodbye to her life with gratitude and eased into her death with peace. I felt as I always do at that time, what an honor it is to be present for such a sacred moment, and I sat still at her bedside, not rushing anything.
When our last breath is taken, I think the most we can hope for is that we lived a good life, that we let go of regret, that we felt appreciation and gratitude, and that we feel no pain. I believe we take nothing with us when we go, and that all we experienced, the good, bad, difficult, and rewarding stays with the life we say goodbye to. I think in order to do that though, we have to set intention with the way we live our life, and not wait until the last hours to days before we die to appreciate all that we have.
This artwork, referred to as sacred stone designs, is done by Deborah and Casey Bridges at StudioBridges, which you can find here: www.studiobridges.com