Being With a Dying Loved One
Ways to make the last days more precious
You both will find that there is a power inherent in death that draws us to contemplate meaning and purpose and depth. An Episcopalian priest, Ron DelBene, teaches a way of praying together during the time of someone's dying. He calls it the "breath prayer," and I have seen it used beautifully and powerfully many times, by deeply religious people as well as by people who have lived quite secular lives. You might find that even the act of creating the breath prayer together, you and your loved one, is an act of deep and loving intimacy.
- Quite simply, begin by asking your loved one to speak his or her name for God. Then, repeat that name with each indrawn breath, each of you together, breathing together, silently saying the same name for God with each inbreath.
- Continue by asking: "What is it you would want if you knew that you were speaking directly with God?" The answer often has to do with such qualities as "peace" or "courage" or "serenity."
- That word or phrase, then, can be repeated, aloud or silently, with each outbreath, still breathing together.
- What is created is a completely personal and, therefore, powerfully meaningful form of prayer, the entire prayer filling an entire breath, in and out: "Lord, grant me courage." "Jesus, give me peace." "Mother, fill me with faith."
The breath prayer is a practice you can do together in the quiet peace of an afternoon when all is calm, and in the urgent crises of a difficult night. It is a practice your loved one will be comforted to know you will continue to do with him or her, even if it becomes too difficult or too far along in the process of active dying for him or her to do it aloud, or even consciously.
The breath prayer is a way to accompany each other to the end of your life together. Sharing so closely, at such a profound time, we begin to catch glimpses of a grace that always surrounds us. Simply and powerfully, dying teaches us where to reach for grace--in depth, in intimacy, in our utter vulnerability.
Accompanying someone you love to death's door, you, like your loved one but in a different way, will be entering new territory, passing through the shattering of your heart and your life as you've known it. His or her death will be your halfway point in a painful, difficult journey. Having escorted your loved one to the moment of death, you will still need to live through your own grief and your own healing. Remember grace--and where to reach for it--during that time of grief.