‘My father was in a coma for six weeks before he died,’ a man told me recently. This man also described how he sat with his father until the end. ‘It was the best thing I ever did,’ he said. He felt there was some intelligence that passed between them wordlessly as they spent time in the same room together. And after his father’s death he said he felt ‘a great sense of peace and closure’. He even went as far as to say he benefited greatly from the experience. He got as much as he gave. After his father died he felt an extraordinary calm and peace whereas his siblings who hadn’t sat bedside (they didn’t see the point of sitting with someone in a coma) were more distraught and their grief took longer to heal.
This man’s experience made me think about my recent care-giving stints, taking care of my parents after the got pneumonia, being with my sister during her first round of chemo and sitting with Laura in hospital for three weeks. As a society we tend to believe that care-giving is a one way street and that there is only one who gives, and one who receives, but I think that the sick and especially the dying teach us more than any of us imagine. I feel I got so much more than I gave with Laura (it changed everything in my life) and that something of that ineffable beauty and intelligence was there with both my sis and my parents recently. There is something about bearing witness and accompanying someone when they are very vulnerable that is profound. Illness strips us of our facade and when fear and suffering subside, it’s almost like the butterfly within emerges and there is a communication beyond words.