Yesterday, someone asked me what I take with me when I sit with someone who is actively dying. During these days, I go in their room in the morning and leave in the late evening. It makes for a long day, but a worthwhile and appreciated day.
If you become a volunteer/work within nursing homes or find yourself as a caregiver to someone in palliative care, I highly recommend reading “Final Gifts”, by Maggie Callanan and “Dying Well”, by Ira Byock, M.D. These two books are wonderful resources, and I will add more to my recommended readings list as I finish more books. I don’t recommend books if I haven’t personally read them.
I really dislike the term “sitting with” when referring to volunteering in this capacity. When I am introduced to the residents, it is the beginning of a respectful relationship. I become a friend, someone they count on to visit, someone they can vent to if frustrated by their surroundings, and much more. I see it more as accompanying them to the next part of their journey.
Once they are considered to be actively dying, the nursing staff usually calls to let me know just in case I wasn’t going to visit for a few more days. I bring my backpack filled with all kinds of things, some for me-some for my friend.
- Bottles of water (the place I visit only has soda in the vending machine for visitors- not good)
- Several books to read (I tend to go back and forth between several during the day)
- Crossword puzzles (One friend would do the puzzles with me. When he was at the end of life, he could still hear me and I would call out what I was looking for on the puzzle.)
- Fruit cut up in a container, homemade meal-replacers from my kitchen, and roasted chickpeas (I follow a plant-based diet)
- Cell phone with the charger with an extra long cord
- Ipod (I listen to music on my walk to the facility, and I have my favorite upbeat song that makes me smile when I hear it- I listen to that right before I walk in the facility.)
- Change for vending (if you decide to use the vending machine, also remember it may not take dollar bills)
- My own hand sanitizing gel that I keep in my pocket. (Of course, they also have it on the wall of every room.)
I dress in layers, as the rooms can get stuffy, warm, or even chilly if the thermostat freezes. I have residents who want the heat on 98 degrees, and those who want it cool around 68 degrees because it helped them breathe easier.
I always talk about music with each resident I am paired with, as it is something that lifts everyone up when listening to a favorite group. I have the Pandora music app on my phone, and I play their favorite genre while I am there. Sometimes the background noise of the facility can be unnerving and aggravating, so I will put on their station softly next to their head. The extra long charger cord helps in this situation, as the outlet could be too far away. I also paid for the yearly subscription for Pandora, so the commercials wouldn’t startle them.
That is pretty much what I bring into the rooms with me when I visit during someone’s end of life. I will post soon on what I do during those hours, and what happens after they pass.
They are always happy and thankful to have someone beside them, so please do not be nervous.