I learned this from Marie de Hennezel, author of Intimate Death,
before you enter the room of one who is close to death, you pause ever so slightly.
You gather yourself up, or in, is more like it, and you just stop.
Take a moment to consider what you are about to do, …
There is a big chance this is the only time you two will meet.
Stella is dying of ovarian cancer, just 54 years old, and the first thing i notice as I draw close to her, is that she has this frown on her face. It appears to be a grimace but her husband says to me that she holds her face that way often, and if her pain increases so does the frown.
Her eyes are shut, and it appears that she is sleeping. But then I hear this slight murmuring, and it is her. Almost like she is humming.
Both of her arms are drawn up close to her chin, they are stiff and contracted and held close to her body. This too, demonstrates her current level of pain.
It is apparent, but I am informed by both her husband and her nurse that she has had a history of trauma and she may or may not want to be touched. Be gentle.
I start with her legs and very slowly, with soft hands, comb down the channels of her legs. The frown deepens at first but then I lighten my touch and move very slowly, and her mouth relaxes. Her frown is my gauge, her body telling me how to proceed when she cannot speak the words.
I spend all the time it takes, to feel her body let me in.
One arm stays contracted and held close, but as I make my way to the other arm, I take her hand in mine and feel our palms touching. Recently, all that I do with my hospice patients is Qi gong; that seems to me the most gentle thing for me and them. I like how it feels doing it, also.
I practice this now with her wrist while we hold hands. My free hand holds her arm so that i can work to pulse her wrist joint, a subtle opening and closing movement. A communion.
Her husband who is sitting at her bedside, reaches over and places his phone on her chest. He says to her in a broken, sweet voice, that he is playing her favorite song. And it is loud.
Her face, which has become increasingly tender and relaxed, starts to smile, but for a brief instant.
Her husband is singing the words and crying, and she begins to move the hand I am holding, as if to dance it. I respond and we dance our arms together while the song blares away off of her chest.
When I finish, she opens her eyes for the first time since we have met. She murmurs words to me as she stares at me, and they are garbled and I reach closer but cannot make them out. Her husband translates, and says she wants to know my name. I tell her and she nods.
I stand at the foot of her bed, and watch as she closes her eyes and slowly retreats back inside herself. It is filled with grace. Gently.