“Put yourself directly and unflinchingly in the dying person’s place. Imagine that you are on that bed, facing your death. Imagine that you are there in pain and alone,” writes Sogyal Rinpoche in “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.”I prepared for my recent visit with my mom by reading an excerpt from this book, wanting to be strong.“Then really ask yourself,” he continues, “What would you most need? What would you most like? What would you really wish from the friend in front of you?”The excerpt comes from a special section on “Care for the Dying: the Wisdom Way,” in last summer’s edition of the Buddhist journal Tricycle, and is beautifully titled “On Being a True Friend.”Isn’t that what we want in our dying days, to be surrounded by true friends?I knew from experience with a friend who’d died recently that what I thought a dying person needed might not be what they really did need.And what was that?“I think,” Rinpoche concludes, “that what the dying person wants is what you would most want: to be really loved and accepted. I have often seen that people who are very sick long to be touched, long to be treated as living people and not diseases.”He suggests a lot of touching, holding, looking into their eyes, breathing in rhythm and gentle massages. “The body has its own language of consolation; use it fearlessly.”This is good, and I try to follow such practical advice during my visit. There are moments when it only goes so far, though.The day of my departure, I wheeled my mother into the sunshine near the big oak tree in my parents’ front yard. She looked at me mutely, stared off, looked at me again. I wiped her mouth with a tissue.I don’t understand this, I thought, and more thinking wasn’t helping. I remembered another of the articles on dying, one titled “What to Do When the Going Gets Rough,” by Frank Ostaseski, founder of the Zen Hospice Project.Too many people die in fear and distress, he says. The people around them are often distracted, reminded by the dying person of their own death to come. They’re swept away by the drama of it all, unable to offer meaningful spiritual support, he says.“What is it to provide this support?” Ostaseski asks. “I would say first and foremost, it’s about bearing witness. And that means not turning away when the going gets rough, staying present in the mystery and unanswerable questions.”So I sit with my mom, until it is time to go. Waiting in the sunshine.
Joanne Marie Thesing Imbrogno was moved into hospice respite care last week.To contact staff writer Douglas Imbrogno, use e-mail or call 348-5115.