Visiting the dying

I have been recalling how, when my friend Anne Powell, aged 95, was dying in the cottage hospital in Kington, Herefordshire, I used to go daily to sit with her for two hours. She lay there, eyes closed. I would say nothing but simply hold her hand and sit in total silence. At the end, getting up, I would make the sign of the cross on her forehead, and always at this moment she would open her amazing blue eyes, smile, then close them again.

I mention this as all too often visitors to the dying don’t know how to behave. Some talk in very loud voices as though the person they are visiting is stone deaf – driving everyone else in the ward mad! Or they talk endlessly about themselves. All we need do is to sit quietly and be. If our friend wants to speak, we listen and respond as needed; otherwise we just hold them in the Silence.



‘Death is indeed a fearful piece of brutality. There is no sense in pretending otherwise,’ Carl Jung wrote on the death of Emma, his beloved wife of 52 years. But, he added, ‘from another point of view death appears as a joyful event … in which the soul attains its missing half. It is a wedding.’ To this day it is the custom in many parts of the world to hold a picnic on the graves of departed ones on All Souls’ Day. Such communal rituals express the feeling that death is really a festive occasion.  When we die our deeds – how we have lived our lives – will follow along with us, and so it is important that, at the end, we do not stand with empty hands!  Such a reflection reminds us of the importance of each one of us living our lives to the full, fulfilling our individual destinies.


All change: next stop!

As we enter our seventies it can be a useful practice after meditation just to sit quietly and reflect on our lives, on our journey thus far – and what may yet be in store. It is important, as we approach the end of our lives, to fill our water-pots for the journey that lies ahead, in which we shall have to learn to let go of all familiar props (including everyday worries and anxieties) and accept whatever awaits us. If there is nothing beyond death, nonetheless it is important to know and feel we have lived our lives to the full. And if there is a continuity beyond this life, then it is important to be ready for the next stage of the journey.



In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche writes:

To learn how to die is to learn how to live. To learn how to live is to learn how to act not only in this life, but in the lives to come.

Not everyone will accept the idea of re-incarnation, but it is important to appreciate, as he says, that ‘everything is inextricably related: we come to realise that we are responsible for everything we do, say or think, indeed for the entire universe’.