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Finding meaning in the last day of life…

Finding meaning in the last day of life--even on a holiday

by Valerie Hartman

This holiday season, as our own hospice team makes visits in our community, we are particularly attentive to families losing loved ones on or near the actual date of a holiday.

Hospice workers carry a humble respect for the feelings that come with holiday loss.

Whether death occurs on a holiday or not, it is often common for the death date, the time of death, or the circumstances around the moment  of death, to signify a meaning that is personal and symbolic to the family.

This can happen when a last breath is taken on…

  • An anniversary date;
  • A birth date;
  • A holiday, or around a holiday date;
  • Another family member’s death date;
  • The same day a favorite plant in the house blooms;
  • The day of regular spiritual worship; for instance, a Sunday; or
  • Alone, in a brief few moments between a long family vigil;
  • Just after an awaited family member arrives at the bedside;

In my early work as a nurse’s aide I remember vividly the quiet passing of an 80-year-old woman. She was alone; she had no remaining family. The staff found out through the power of attorney that she died two hours after her very best friend died three states away on the same day. Learning about that, somehow softened the concern for her isolation at the end of her life and gave her death an additional meaning.

This writing is to honor that moment of last breath, a time that is quiet and sacred in the hospice experience. The last breath is a moment in hospice care that is almost always promised to be a gentle slowing down of air exchange, moments filled with stillness. Difficult, yes, as that moment is an exchange of freedom or release for our loved one, and the start of fresh grief in that loss for family members, dear friends.

As the New Year begins, our hospice team wishes peaceful moments and some comfort in the workings that surround the last days and last breaths of life, for you and your loved one.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Reblogged this on Baby Boomers and More and commented:
    In my article: I address the issue of what the days leading up to ones death might be like. Your article – so well put – brings clarity and comfort to those of us whose loved ones have slipped away. Thank you.

    December 27, 2012
    • Valerie Hartman #

      Thank you for sharing this with others on your blog, and sharing your blog post with us too.
      Last breaths are delicate moments, I appreciate these forums that allow us to write about such sensitive matters professionally.

      December 29, 2012
  2. We buried my mom a week before Thanksgiving 2008. We were all in shocked on Thanksgiving day, but “celebrated” the holiday for the kids. For me that holiday will never be the same. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    December 29, 2012
    • Valerie Hartman #

      Kathy, Our family lost my mother just before Christmas that very same year. Seems every Christmas since brings a brand new feeling about the whole thing. Emotional range, ever evolving challenge as each year the tradition of her past mixes with the traditions newly created for the future. Have no idea how it will all settle into a day of joy and remembrance too.. however I am optimistic that one year, it will. And I am certain that not one Christmas in the future will not be intimately tied to her memories, remembrance of her life. I am trying to make a new tradition of decorating the Christmas tree on her death date.. using the ornaments that we all picked out the few years before she died, when she was sick. Everyone feels differently, but this is one way that for me personally, her death around the Holiday, brings a part of her back. Like making one of her recipes..somehow brings a little part of her back. ..and yes, I agree, the Holiday will never be the same again..

      January 2, 2013

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