The Gift of compassionate attention
As people come close to death, what they want and need becomes very simple. They want that most underused of human resources — the gift of attention. At the moment of death, all that matters is what is most essential in us and most simple to give. The dying need our humanity.
Participating in the death of another human being, although heartbreaking, is a privilege that is unforgettable, inexpressible, and beautifully real.
Being in the presence of death is unlike any other experience in life. There is nothing in the world as final as the last breath — which is to say, the first absence of the next breath. Stephen Levine, the author of Who Dies? and other contributions to the field of compassionate death care, has spent many years being with people on their deathbeds. He has observed that, in the presence of the newly dead, we very soon become aware that the consciousness in us, which is aware of the death of the other, is the consciousness in the other which has just departed the body.
There are now 7 billion of us on earth and 7 billion different ways to die. Each death is and will be unique and each dying person goes further into subtle dimensions than we, the living, can go with him or her.
All we have to offer is our common humanity and our willingness to be present — with our fear and emotional discomforts — at the very edge of the mystery, in the face of the unknown.