Some of us know the look of death in someone who is going to die. We know it’s coming on a face we’ve known. We know without needing to think about it. We just know.
That’s because we know the look of life. We know the smiles, the twinkling eyes, the joy written on a face, the head that nods in understanding when we need comfort and listening. We also know the look of anger, boredom, frustration, impatience and even regret. All of these faces and more are pieces of our experience, our life which is stamped in our memories.
But the look of death – that changes everything. Even while we hold their hand and they sense we are there with a squeeze of our hand, there’s an expression of resolve in that face, that soon they will no longer be with us.
That separation from us, the living, brings much sadness to ourselves.
I remember the Chantilly dusting powder my grandmother used after she showered. The scent permeated the room when she applied the puff to herself. She would take out her hair rollers and brush her hair before donning her make-up: a dash of foundation and blush and then some compact powder. Sometimes when dressed, she’d search through her small cedar jewel box with a beautiful painting of the Last Supper on the lid. They were mostly costume pieces, but there were the most coveted things I knew because they were hers. The jewelry, whether it was a pendant, earrings or bracelet, made for a finished portrait and those eyes of hers lit up like diamonds.
But when Nana became ill and close to death, her eyes didn’t twinkle anymore. They spoke of helplessness, pain, and deep resolve. I think of my Mom and how she changed, too. And my Dad. The connection with them was gone long before they took their last breath.
It prepared me. I missed them already and letting go was the hardest thing I have ever done. But in separating themselves from us, our loved ones give us permission to let go, too.
We live with a new reality during the death process. We live knowing that when that time is over for someone, our life will still go on. I think of this time as a silver lining because in the deep grief we feel, our loved ones let go with us.
So, as we journey with our loved ones through to their death, perhaps we can find some sense of comfort knowing that keeping them comfortable, refreshed and taking care of them with a gentle spirit will ease the transition from life to death, through our love and respect.
Jackie Kierulf is a retired health policy analyst who has always loved to write. After being a caregiver and journeying with both of her parents in their last days, she launched a blog to share some of her personal reflections on grief and loss. Jackie has also contributed to the Canadian Grief Resource Network grief stories. In addition, she has been published in a short story anthology as well as in local newspapers. When Jackie is not writing, she is reading, enjoying the outdoors or traveling. Please follow Jackie’s blog at Cherishing the Death Process.