Tag: mirrors


A few weeks ago, I was seated around the bedside of a mother and grandmother, talking with her children. The patient was dancing between this world and the next, so peacefully and her daughters were just relived that she was finally reaching the end of a years long struggle. It had glorious highs with hopeful prognosis and soul crushing lows which caused this family to close ranks and focus on what meant the most to them. When mom decided that she was ready to enjoy what life she had left without doctor’s appointments and scans – without nausea so profound she was unable to open the blinds and without such exhaustion that even lifting her hand to caress the face of her granddaughter was a struggle, her family supported her choice.  That was about four months ago and hospice was called in. Our paths crossed there and brought us here. To this moment.

As she lay there, her breathing slowing down, if you could imagine the batting of a butterfly’s wings, so elegant and graceful, her daughters started to tell me stories of the precancerous life. At one point during a very animated moment, both daughters started laughing recounting a moment when Mom attempted to absentmindedly bake a cake and used powdered sugar instead of flour.  They both turned to me, with shock, and said “Oh my God, Helen… Mom is dying and we are laughing!  Is that allowed?”  “Of course it is!  I am sure she can hear you and is loving it all!” The girls went on to share more stories and Mom peacefully passed. The soft smile on her face proof that she loved every moment of their loving laughter.

So, what is allowed when someone is dying?  It’s not like Emily Post wrote about it or for you younger folk that you can search it on Wikipedia. As a hospice nurse, I have seen the gamut of emotions. The rainbow of feelings that one’s passing elicits is vast. Let me tell you what I think is ok… again… full disclaimer… my blog… my opinion.  Don’t forget… I am a loud, sassy, emotional and heart on my sleeve Greek woman, so some folks might not agree. I digress

It is ok to cry.

I am going to say that again, it is ok to cry.  That means everything from the single tear to the please hand me a tissue because the snot is overtaking me crying. No one has the right to dictate how you cry. I will put one exception here, I have seen, mostly in very small villages where people throw themselves on the deceased or dying person and caused them harm. Please don’t do that. Cry all you want. Don’t forget tissues and waterproof eye make up.

It is ok to laugh. Working in this death business, I often think about what it might be like when I go. Do I want people sitting around sobbing over me?  No way!  Especially if I am still there and hearing is the last sense to go!  I want to hear the stupid stories about how my brother tried to make me ride a goat when I was 5 and got lice. Laugh!  Heck, laugh till you cry. It’s ok.


It is ok to feel conflicted. Death or dying brings so many emotions. How could you not be conflicted?  Think of that period as a almost a time you are sifting for gold. You have all the sandy sediment junk on top, but, in time, as you move through the emotional stages, you will find the gold. Yes, you will miss that person, but, there is goodness that comes from death. It’s not always easy to see.

It is ok to be angry. Sometimes, people are angry at the person that is dying for not trying hard enough with treatments. That’s their choice. You might not agree with it, but, you do have to respect it. While it’s ok to be angry for a while, it’s not ok to stay angry… that’s an emotion that needs working through as soon as possible.

It’s ok to recount, recall, tell stories, make jokes (ok, maybe not crude ones)… all of those things help people begin to heal.

It’s ok to scream in a pillow when you are alone

It’s ok to eat a pint of ice cream while crying (not that this is from personal experience… tears and chocolate almond are yummy)

It is ok to see a therapist. No one is a fortress. It’s ok and really healthy to ask for health when dealing with all of these emotions.

Death just doesn’t change the life of the one dying. It changes the lives of everyone.


People often ask often how I cope with seeing so much death… After all, the purpose of my job is to prepare people so that they have a peaceful and pain free passage.  For the vast majority of the patients, death is almost a welcomed event.  While leaving loved ones behind is not always the easiest, by the time death arrives, if I have done my job as best as I can, my patient and family are ready for this transition.

Even in the cases that death is viewed as almost like that anticipated friend that comes to help you escape, it still always has a bit of a sting.  It’s almost unfair for me to say that it is painful for me because I always think about the loss that the loved ones feel.  But, even if I’ve known the patient for one day, one month, one year – that patient always leaves their own impression into my canvas.  Perhaps it is because as I told someone very dear to me today, that in our patients, we see ourselves.  Even if it is just a tiny flicker, somewhere in that patient, we see a familiar fire…. we see ourselves.

So, with each passing, I mourn… the loss of the person.. the loss of that spirit… the loss of that mirror reflecting back at me.  I mourn the loss of the woman who held on until her daughter told her it was ok to go… that she had provided her with the one thing she needed to survive without her mom… strength.  I worry if they pass calmly.  Some people say that death is like birth, but backwards.  Birth seems pretty traumatic for those little babies and I would hate to have that happen to these dear souls.

So, dear patients, I fight your fights with you… I do feel your struggles and triumphs.  I can sense so many things about you because your essences has blossomed a beautiful vine in my heart.  As I have held your hands and felt them go from warm to cool, know that this is a journey that wasn’t taken alone.

And when the journey ends and my heart alternates between being happy you are at peace and sad that you are no longer here, know that I, too have my own little way of celebrating your life.  This may sound silly to some, but, I light a fire. The papers and notes that were taken during our journey together become the starter kindling for that fire.  As the fire grows and fills the room with light and warmth, my thoughts dance back to the wonderful memories I have made with that sweet patient.  And as the tongues of flame die down, a prayers of celebration and gratitude fill my heart.  Happy journeys my friend..

Sometimes, when the flames have passed and it’s time to close the glass doors of the fireplace.. for just that split second, it’s almost as if I see that reflection there… that reflection of me… of that patient… of that mirror…