Updated: Feb 1, 2020
The question I get asked most, is how much longer someone has. I can tell when someone is close, and sometimes I can get the family gathered around the bedside moments before the last breath is taken. And sometimes I let everyone know that a patient is actively dying and they hold on for another week. So I have learned that unless they are truly taking their last breaths, I don’t give an exact time. When I think someone is close, I usually say it will be hours to days and I suggest to the family that they assume it‘s hours and if they get more time, it’s a bonus.
The last moments are the most precious, because they are the last memories you have with them. One of my favorite quotes is, “my memories say hello, they ask about you all the time”. When I am at the bedside with a patient and their family or friends are there, I ask them about favorite memories. I encourage them to talk about them, to go back to those times and feel. Sometimes I have them talk to the person in the bed to remind them as well. Usually it brings out laughter, most often time tears, but memories are so important and while that person still has breath, they can hear and they can feel, at least that is what I believe, so give them some beautiful memories to take with them.
I was sitting at the bedside of a woman who was in her 90’s, her husband of 70 years was sitting across from me. We were sitting in silence for quite sometime; I don’t think he knew what to say or do. So I asked, him “how did you two meet?” This started the most beautiful conversation of how they met, how he courted her, and how they fell in love. To love someone that much, for so long, is amazing to me. Their love was a beautiful love. As we talked, I could see that she was close, minutes away close, so I said, “she’s very close, do you have anything else you want to say to her?”. He asked me if she could hear him, and what he should say. I explained that I believe she hears everything he is saying, and suggested he tell her something she could take with her. He took her hand and he said “thank you for loving me, my life was better because of you. I will miss you forever“, and she took her last breath. He cried, I cried. I reached my hand out to his and he took it and he said “thank you for letting me remember”.