Sitting by the bedside of a dying loved one keeping awake and alert is a vigil. The vigil can provide comfort and meaning, resolution and peace to both the dying person and their loved ones. It is by being present in the moment and bearing witness to the death and one’s own grief that can enhance and bring meaning to the dying process.
The best thing that we can offer to the bedside of a dying person is our own quiet, peaceful mind. People near death usually have a heightened sensitivity to the subtle energies in the room. This is why hospices encourage things that are calming, such as music, meditation, aromatherapy and massage.
Be present with the dying person and let them be your guide. Hold hands, look in their eyes, feel the emotions that come up. If they wish to reminisce or share their wisdom listen and participate in their life review. Perhaps write down your thoughts and feelings. Be willing to reconcile past hurts and say goodbye.
Your vigil over a loved one’s dying process can sometimes seem lonely, especially in the wee hours of the morning when you may be tired and alone. It is natural to feel many emotions during this time. Often you may feel abandoned, lost or angry. Doubts may arise about your ability to continue to vigil with your loved one until they die. These feelings are normal.
Be gentle with yourself. Care-giving is hard work. Organize family and friends to take turns sitting with your love one. Take care of yourself by planning frequent breaks, eating regular meals and getting plenty of sleep. Accept help, because it is simply too stressful to do this alone.
Remember that this sacred time can be deeply meaningful, possibly including an intense connection to a loving spiritual presence. A vigil provided with caring hearts provides great comfort to a dying person as they prepare to leave.
Most religions have rituals after death and many people have made arrangement for them to be carries out. If no wishes have been expressed at Celia’s House we offer a few rituals to help with the closure of the vigil and honor the life of, and one’s relationship to, the person who has died. We have found it helps the grieving process for many and helps them move on to whatever tasks may come next. It is not an easy time. Your Hospice Provider or care giver can assist with these rituals if you like. They are simple enough that family and/or friends can do them on their own as well.
- Make changes to the environment to reflect the change, clearing out all medications, straightening the room, bringing in fresh flowers or candles.
- A gentle washing of the body, either just the face and hands or the whole body.
- Anointing the feet, hands, and/or forehead with oil.
- Spending quiet time with the body to say goodbye.
At Celia’s House before the body is removed and if the family is agreeable, we perform a simple flower ceremony to honor and say goodbye. We gather flowers from the gardens and lay them over the body saying kind words of remembrance or any psalms, sacred text or poems that are appropriate for that person.