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Preparing for End of Life

As the end of a loved one’s life draws near, we may pause and reflect on their life and what he or she has meant to us.  We may take even a small amount of time to re-create a sense of ritual around us, and around the dying, so as to ease the inevitable emotional and even physical pain that accompanies death.  Creating a ritual around death – regardless of how simple the ritual may be – comforts both the dying and those of us left to carry on. 

Physical Space - Creating ritual means creating a sense of “sacredness."  It is important that we “set apart” the immediate physical area surrounding the person whose death is near, clearing up any clutter of dirty dishes, papers, soiled clothing, or unnecessary noise-making devices.  We can further “set apart” his or her physical surroundings by maintaining a generalized respectful silence.  There will be some necessary and healthy conversation that will take place, but small-talk and distracting conversations should be taken to another locale.  We may also lend a more dignified and ceremonial feel to these final days and hours by perhaps erecting simple partitions from outside parties whose presence may create discomfort and unrest.

Religious Affiliation
- If the dying individual has a religious affiliation, they may wish to meet with the appropriate clergy to receive any last rites or to assist in prayer and meditation.  However, this may not be desirable to the dying, and their request should also be honored.
Burdens - A person may carry with them certain long-standing emotional burdens in the form of guilt.  Such burdens may cause the actual process of dying to be more painful and taxing than is necessary.  In this event, it is advisable to find someone with whom the dying individual trusts with his or her “secret” and to whom the “secret” may be divulged without fear of judgment or retribution. 

Objects - Objects reminding the dying person of good deeds, of honorable times, of family and friends may be set up at intervals around the room.  Religious items such as a yarmulke, prayer shawl, crucifix, prayer beads, or holy books may be placed near the dying. Dying persons with no formal religious affiliation or with alternative or secular beliefs may find comfort in the presence of objects taken from nature, such as feathers, smooth stones, sand or earth from a certain location, or a vial of seawater.  If it is permitted and safe to do so, perhaps soften the lights and use a few candles for lighting the space, although scented candles should be avoided.
Music - Once the space has been physically set apart, soft music and singing may be of comfort.  The music should be kept in line with the belief system of the dying: evangelical Christians may wish to hear old gospel hymns; those of Jewish heritage may desire to hear piyyutum in their final days; Catholics may wish to listen to hymns and liturgical music of their faith; Buddhists might prefer chant in a familiar language; Native peoples of the Americas may desire a certain song on the flute. 

Words - If proper, prayers or liturgy may be read or recited.  If this proves to be unacceptable to our dying loved one, we may wish instead to invoke a few minute of silence, or simple words of love and faith.  Even a few words of gratitude for this moment in time may be in order.  As our small but powerful session of ritual comes to a close, the dying loved one may wish to speak. 
As each situation differs, so does the end of the ritual.  Move slowly, quietly, respectfully, and you cannot go wrong.  The objects brought into the room should remain. The physical partitions such as blankets or chairs should remain.  It is best if those present leave one by one, so as not to suddenly leave a vacuum in this person’s remaining life.  Maybe some will remain, but people should not linger so as to become a nuisance in this process. 


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