My father was in hospice care his last few days and I had the privilege of spending his last week by his side. I knew he was getting close to death’s door so I spent months staying close to home in order to hear the call for my presence, putting several other plans on hold to free my time.
It was important to me to be by his side for I knew he had not prepared himself for his passing in his conscious years and had spent the last six years in an increasing state of dementia. Being a midwife to the transition of the dying is a skill and a calling that has been in my life these past 20 years, and now I was able to share my skills and loving presence with my own parent.
The inspiration for writing this article is to support those who are interested in being a loving support to yourself and/or others when passing from this world.
Many people know about health directives and legal issues around guardianship. I am not a legal expert so this is not within my scope of practice to give such advice. I strongly urge you to consult professionals who can help you and your family make end of life care plans that fit your values.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a support system. This includes members of your family, friends, mental and spiritual counselors, legal advisors, medical and hospice resources, inspirational writings, music, and other tools I will be talking about here.
My background and training as a mental health professional prepared me in a general way for understanding developmental psychology and the issues connected with different stages of life. But, it is my psychotherapeutic training with Process Work, especially the coma work of Amy and Arnold Mindell, along with dedicated teachers such as Stan Tomandl and Ann Jacobs, that has trained me to work specifically with deep trance states and “minimum cues” in patients.
My father was in a deep trance state, partially due to his dementia and partly to medications, such as morphine, within the hospice setting. I developed a basic communication system by observing his breathing, the movement of his eyes and eyebrows, and especially movement of his hands when he could squeeze my fingers. He could sometimes move his shoulders and could create forearm tension. These non-verbal signals were used as binary communication signals. A squeeze of my fingers might mean “yes, stay near” while a shrug of his shoulder meant, “I’m uncomfortable.”
His hospice nurses were truly angels, compassionately caring for his bodily needs. Their goal was to keep him comfortable, without being over medicated. This was a delicate balance achieved through their observation skills and my ability to understand my father’s communications. They thanked me for being with him around the clock and notifying them when he needed their assistance.
When dad first arrived at hospice, he was breathing through a ventilator. I had spent two days working to prepare him for the inevitability of removing this breathing device. He had indicated to me that he was ready to have it removed. We were approaching this very delicately for we were not sure if he could breath on his own.
In addition to checking his minimum cue feedback, I suddenly decided to also consult my new Lenormand deck, for the first time. I had just received my first lesson from Mary Greer at SF BATS, had a book, notes, and a deck, and was ready to learn. Here are the two cards that appeared in response to my inquiry about whether my father was ready to have the ventilator removed.
Scythe (10) + Heart (24)
You don’t need to know anything about Lenormand to get a first impression of these two images. My immediate response was, remove the ventilator, but do it with great compassion and love. This was a profoundly confirming simple message. I checked my Lenormand book and posted on the FB Lenormand Cards Study Group to get additional guidance, which essentially confirmed my impression.
He was able to breath on his own without the ventilator and continued to breath more slowly and shallower for the next three days. I spent time with him sending him love, reminding him he is love and is loving. High points from his history were reported back to him. I utilized Process Work skills to step into many aspects of his being, from the one who is angry about his dying body, to the soul who is ready to let go.
A special soundtrack of music was created with variations to soothe the atmosphere and ease his being. I sang along with Charlie Thweatt to my dad. Sometimes, I would read poetry or spiritual verses. I also utilized energy work to help balance what little flow was still in his body.
There came a time when my father’s body had shut down so far he could no longer control minimum movements. I was left with my intuition, my sensitivity to energy, and my cards. Process Work awareness helped me to do Inner Work to process his needs internally within my own self. This included my dreams and sinking into his experience of helplessness, trapped inside a body that could no longer move.
My wish to be aware of his needs were now limited by lack of access to his nonverbal wishes. I was thankful to have the cards and to be able to check in with questions such as….”Do you want me to hold your hand?”, “Would you like me to leave the room?” following this guidance to care for his needs with a feeling of ease knowing we could still commune.
Finally, his last breath was exhaled. I sat with him and loved him into the next world. I checked his body for energy, and there was none. He had passed.
Ken 1931 – 2012
Card images from Piatnik Lenormand deck (Austria)
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