Research

Accompanying at the end of life

Gloria Miguens

Accompanying is to add something to the lives of others.

Noel Clarasó

The Spanish word “acompañar” (accompany) may lead us to think about a wordplay that includes many other meaningful words. It contains the syllables –pa-; perhaps of “par” (pair), “apañar” (protect); –compa– of “compañero” (companion), “compás” (beat); moving to the rhythm of something or someone.

The definition given by the dictionary is as strong as the word itself: “Accompany is to share time and space with another, to be with or go with somebody else.”

When a new life arrives, we receive them, we embrace them, we take care of them. We can do the same with those who are dying.

The process of accompanying a person at the end of his life is an intense and enriching experience. There are challenging and painful steps and steps full of tenderness and love. It is worth daring.

“Accompanying a person at the end of his/her life doesn’t have to do with great formulas or manuals, but some strategies may be useful. The momentum, however, is always the same: compassion and love for the other.” Gloria Miguens

Accompanying a person at the end of his/her life doesn’t have to do with great formulas or manuals, but some strategies may be useful. The momentum, however, is always the same: compassion and love for the other. The firm and courageous decision to hold that person to the border of his/her life.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926-2004), medical psychiatrist and one of the first makers of the paradigm shift over death, says in her book On Death and Dying (1989) that “sitting by the bedside of the dying is a gift, and dying is not necessarily a sad and terrible thing. On the contrary, wonderful things can be lived, and a lot of tenderness can be found. “

“sitting by the bedside of the dying is a gift, and dying is not necessarily a sad and terrible thing. On the contrary, wonderful things can be lived, and a lot of tenderness can be found.” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

One night I had to accompany my mom. It was an intense night, but I remember it as a time of incredibly special intimacy. Physical pain exhausts. Mom was sick, and for a while, she suffered severe pain in one leg. The appointments with the doctor and tests were not successful in giving us an accurate diagnosis. She had had cancer, and there was the possibility of bone metastasis.

That night I decided to stay with her, to make sure she took the pills, to accompany her. Almost immediately, I realized it was not going to be a typical night. Mom could not sleep, I gave her the prescribed medication: a “rescue” dosage of morphine, and we waited for the medication to take effect. Mom was a strong, hardworking, and stubborn Irish woman, this was the way we liked to define herself, but at that time, she was exhausted. I decided to call her doctor. He was kind as usual and advised me accordingly on how to manage mom’s pain.

At three o’clock, however, the pain did not relent. I called mom’s beloved neighbor, medical anesthetist, and asked for help. She was kind enough to help us leaving aside sleep and fatigue.

Mom was moaning softly, so I wouldn’t listen. I saw her sitting down several times; it was the most relieving position for her. I noticed that she had no strength to stand sitting. I felt helpless, defeated. I did not know what else to do. So I got behind her and let her body lean on mine. I wrapped her with my arms and legs (a kind of human chair). I could not ease her pain, but I could hold her and accompany her as she had done to me many times. I held her in this way for a long time.

“Mom, I’m with you,” I whispered.

It was all I could offer at that time. Now I was cradling her. A bit later, she finally fell asleep.

There are no perfect formulas to accompany others on the end of life. But experience showed me that some tools might help.

  1. Making eye contact when the person talks to us.
  2. Sounding out with questions/invitations to know what and how much the person knows about what is happening. (For example, I feel that you’re upset/sad/ angry, would you like to talk about it)?
  3. Not judging by what he/she says or feels.
  4. Being honest and careful with the answers.
  5. If the person talks about his/her possible death, ask: are you afraid?
  6. Allowing us to mourn with them.

Gloria Miguens is the author of this book  

Hospice Chaplaincy is committed to promoting excellence in spiritual care at the end of life. Our mission is to advance research initiatives that promote a better understanding of the psychosocial and psycho-spiritual aspects of end of life care. We are dedicated to providing patient advocacy, support and education services to individuals, clergy and medical professionals resulting in improvements in providing quality spiritual care at the end of life.

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