Lessons from the Dying: My First Memorable Lesson

Lessons from the dying: I am enough

While End of Life Care may not always be physically demanding, the emotional and spiritual challenges can be overwhelming. My goal in offering these short segments is to engage your thinking about hospice massage and how it has influenced you.  This 4-week series: Lessons from the Dying, starts with My First Memorable Lesson. The next three weeks will include: Deep Listening, Keeping Relationships Current, and Honoring the Moment. 

Lessons from the Dying: My First Memorable Lesson 
© 2016, Meg Robsahm, MEd, LMP

Recently I had the pleasure to attend a gathering of like-minded people. You know the odd kind of people: those of us interested in end of life, death and dying. (I hope you hear the virtual chuckle!!)

At the meeting, Karen M. Wyatt, MD, (www.eoluniversity.com) presented from her book: WHAT MATTERS MOST: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying. This book is a collection of wisdom from the terminally ill, written by a hospice physician. Karen’s presentation reminded me of the first significant lesson that I learned from the dying:

Being present is enough.

As a massage therapist working in hospice, palliative and end of life care for a decade and a half, I remember my early days of volunteering. I created a ritual to become present, a checklist of sorts, to be able to clear my mind and meet my client without an agenda.

A slow walk toward the door gave me time to clear my mind before I introduced myself; the friendly banter with caregivers became the informal “interview” with the family; and then of course, the precious time I shared with their loved one. A caring touch and a slow, deep breath brought us together.

This process changed the way I worked with all of my clients. I discovered the value in slowing down, as the measured pace fostered a more peaceful and relaxing experience. I realized I missed important verbal and nonverbal cues if I didn’t pause to listen after asking a question.

During this pivotal time, when so many meaning-of-life questions are bouncing around, I found I didn’t need to have all the answers. My clients looked forward to my quiet, caring touch as the answer to their pain and fear.

I was captivated by my first lesson: learning to live in the presence of the dying. Simple things became the most heartfelt. I stopped making excuses for not doing or being more. I stopped feeling guilty. I was beginning to learn what it was like to live and work without an attachment to outcomes. These humble insights changed me in a profound way. I was reminded that this moment is enough; just as I am.

I am enough.

What was your first memorable lesson from the dying?

Our next installment: Deep Listening. I hope you will join me.

If this course is inspiring to you, please consider registering for one of Meg's palliative care continuing education courses in Washington State.