The Power of Presence
“I say to people who care for people who are dying if you really love that person and want to help them,
be with them when their end comes close. Sit with them – you don’t even have to talk.
You don’t have to do anything but really be there with them.”
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
In a time when people are constantly checking their texts, email, and alerts, Elisabeth’s message encouraging presence without conversation can seem oddly inactive — if not downright cold, especially in a society where the sound is now often equated with a connection.
Yet, what Elisabeth understood then is something the hospice and palliative care field advocates for more of now: Presence. What does that mean? Take yesterday’s call from a woman who reached out to discuss her dying best friend:
“What do I say? What if I say the wrong thing,” she cried. “She’s dying! I can’t just sit there!”
Yet that’s exactly what Elisabeth encouraged and I do, too, because sometimes the most meaningful communication between the living and the dying comes from simply being… sharing space without filling it with noise disguised as banter. For many concerned friends, family members
and caregivers, however, voicelessness is equated to powerlessness. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Choosing to sit bedside with the dying, in silence, is one of the most empowering acts ever. Choosing to intently listen to seemingly senseless words that can emerge from a soul preparing to transition, can be awe-inspiring. It can truly be fascinating to watch the mind and spirit reconcile with each other as the soul prepares to soar and the body prepares to die.
Most important, silently sitting bedside affords we, the living, a unique opportunity to be in service to those we love so deeply. I believe the dying often feel the air between us and our presence in the room, whether validated by conversation or not.
So to the woman who called yesterday and to all of you, I send you courage as you walk toward those you love who are dying. I promise you, the opportunity to sit in silence while thoughtfully, prayerfully or energetically sending love and gratitude, could be one of the most profound experiences of your life.
Sending Love and Light,
Dianne Gray is an author, hospice and palliative care advocate, and expert on end-of-life care. She's also been the caregiver for a child diagnosed at age five with a neurodegenerative disorder. She is Acclivity's Chief Innovation and Advocacy Officer