Allies In Transition

How To Prepare For A Peaceful Death: Allies In Transition
Thoughts From The Field

Allies In Transition
July 17, 2004


As I have mentioned in previous articles, no one dies until they are ready, except in the case of accident. When the individual has said and heard their final goodbyes and they express that they are mentally and emotionally ready for the transition, they often need coaching, however. As we face any unknown situation in life, we look for instruction of some sort, or we slowly undertake the situation without guidance evaluating each step as we go.

This week I received a Memorial Letter about a close friend, a nun in the order of St. Francis of Assisi. My friend died Memorial Weekend at the age of 107 ½. There are so many stories I can recount about this amazing woman. However, I’ll stick to my point here. The statement that delighted me in the letter was, “And God did come for her as she was surrounded by her Sisters of St. Francis, who had been at her bedside during her last day, singing and praying her into eternity.” This is an explicit documentation of coaching or death walking as it is known in some indigenous cultures.

I have had the privilege over the past thirty years of coaching many people including my husband and my father in their last hours. I have also taught many family caregivers how to coach as well. There are many subtleties of coaching. I cannot begin to describe all of them. I can, however, categorize the techniques. They can be grouped into three categories: verbal, tactile, and energy coaching.

A good example of verbal coaching is the singing and praying that was expressed in the Memorial letter. I also used this form with my Dad. In my Dad’s case, however, I used a mantra of sorts, “Let the angels come and get you.” And “It is ok to go be with your mother and father, they are waiting for you.” I repeated these phrases over and over hours at a time when my Dad was apparently asleep or unconscious. When he awoke, I talked to him answering his questions and telling him that he was loved.

Some individuals feel more comfortable as a coach when they touch the dying person, to letting the person know that someone loving is there. One woman told me that she rubbed her mother’s feet with lotion many times during her last days. I watched my sister-in-law hold her mother’s limp hand as she told her over and over that she loved her and that it was all right to let go.

As a nurse, my first dramatic lesson in energy coaching came from a sweet woman who had been in my care during many hospital admissions. It was clear that this woman’s body was more dead than alive at 65 pounds and unconscious for three days. On this night when I walked into her room to make my first rounds of patients, I mentally asked her, “Why don’t you die?” As I walked closer to her bed, she gasped her last breath. It appeared as though a light went on in her room at that moment, although no lights had been touched. It seemed to me that she needed permission from someone, in this case me, to let go of her wasting body. In her better days as a hospital patient, she and I had learned to trust each other as I cared for and instructed her for her many disease complications. Her family visited her on a daily basis but perhaps in their statements of love, they didn’t tell her that they gave her permission to die.

Many cultures and some religions have rituals that are provided as a person approaches their last days or hours of life. These rituals are a form of coaching. I speak for myself when I say that coaching has brought me more peace than sadness at a loved one’s death. Perhaps we need to be reminded that death is the ultimate joy-filled event for the dying individual and join in the process by singing and coaching them.