I have often seen also that people who are very sick long to

be touched, long to be treated as living people and not diseases.

A great deal of consolation can be given to the very ill

simply by touching their hands, looking into their eyes, gently

massaging them or holding them in your arms, or breathing in

the same rhythm gently with them. The body has its own

language of love; use it fearlessly, and you will find you bring

to the dying comfort and consolation.

Often we forget that the dying are losing their whole world:

their house, their job, their relationships, their body, and their

mind—they're losing everything. All the losses we could possibly

experience in life are joined together in one overwhelming

loss when we die, so how could anyone dying not be sometimes

sad, sometimes panicked, sometimes angry? Elisabeth

Kübler-Ross suggests five stages in the process of coming to

terms with dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and

acceptance. Of course not everyone will go through all these

stages, or necessarily in this order; and for some people the road

to acceptance may be an extremely long and thorny one; others

may not reach acceptance at all. Ours is a culture that does not

give people very much true perspective on their thoughts, emotions,

and experiences, and many people facing death and its

final challenge find themselves feeling cheated by their own

ignorance, and terribly frustrated and angry, especially since no

one seems to want to comprehend them and their most heartfelt

needs. As Cicely Saunders, the great pioneer of the hospice

movement in Britain, writes: "I once asked a man who knew he

was dying what he needed above all in those who were caring

for him. He said, 'For someone to look as if they are trying to

understand me.' Indeed, it is impossible to understand fully

another person, but I never forgot that he did not ask for success

but only that someone should care enough to try." 2

It is essential that we care enough to try, and that we reassure

the person that whatever he or she may be feeling, whatever

his or her frustration and anger, it is normal. Dying will

bring out many repressed emotions: sadness or numbness or

guilt, or even jealousy of those who are still well. Help the

person not to repress these emotions when they rise. Be with

the person as the waves of pain and grief break; with acceptance,

time, and patient understanding, the emotions slowly

subside and return the dying person to that ground of serenity,

calm, and sanity that is most deeply and truly theirs.

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