Being present for the dying brings all alive

Death entered into my life recently and I have never felt more alive than with — and in — its presence.

It came in the shape of two messengers, both hospice workers, who visited me first from cyber space and then from Cape May, New Jersey. They awoke something inside that I am only now realizing that I have been trying to understand for what seems forever: What is the meaning of life?

Now don’t go looking for answers to age-old riddles that even most enlightened have tried to answer. You can’t learn this from a book or from someone else no matter how saintly or divine you make them out to be. You need to discover this yourself by putting together pieces of a puzzle that have been manifesting inside ever since you consciously begun your journey looking for your purpose in what sometimes seems a purposeless universe.

We are all together in this search, and once we see this interdependence, we can fit the first puzzle piece together with the next one. Life is all about fitting things together. Life’s about fitting you with me, and me with you, and all of us together as one whole.

The two hospice workers learned from direct experience how to care for those dying. They did it by opening themselves to others and placing their needs and concerns over their own whenever in their presence. “Presence” is exactly what they offered to these men and women. They listened. They listened deeply, allowing their words and expressions register inside of them, not rushing to give advice or to provide answers their wards could usually find themselves by looking within themselves.

Many people who are dying simply need someone to talk with, to talk to, to be listened to even if it’s the same discussions they had just a day or week earlier but were unable to remember. The active listener smiles, nods and encourages the speaker to continue, to stretch their oratory skills, to let things sometimes buried so deep it can only surface when someone offering love and understanding gives them the green light to forge ahead.

Listening is an art. It involves not only the ears, but the eyes making contact with another. You need smiles, lots of smiles when you engage in this practice. Don’t forget to raise eyebrows in honest wonder and awe when something awe-inspiring is suggested or when you hear something personally instructive you didn’t expect from the one not long for this world. Karma and/or the Creator may have allowed this very moment to ripen so that you – and the person dying – could benefit from the exchange.


A light went on when I listened to and read the words of these compassionate and wise care-givers. We can share this type of loving kindness with the living, with those not as close to death’s door, but who are inevitably headed there as we all are. We are all dying, but most don’t feel its imminence. But, what if we did? What if we looked at others as if they were dying?

I would want to treat you with the utmost care and respect. I’d overlook some things you did that might irritate me. I’d also try to understand your prejudices or anger toward others by putting myself in your place to determine if you might have been hurt or negatively influenced by someone through sheer ignorance and that despite what I might initially feel an aversion toward, I could understand it, and see how anyone exposed to the same forces and environment might have been shaped the same way for good or for bad.

I’d “be there” for you and not expect anything in return. I’d offer you life, a rewarding enriching experience whenever you came into my presence. And, I might get as much – if not more – out of this exchange then anyone could ever realize.

I would really come alive and I think you would too.

7 comments on “Being present for the dying brings all alive

  1. Savira says:

    Being present with them during this moment ..I have found to be crucial.. As you say they are not looking for sympathy but honesty. It was the most powerful experience for me during the passing away of loved one… I found myself fully present through out…


    • contoveros says:


      Why is it that we can give our all to those closing in on death, but not see the suffering and pain of those living? I wish I could slow things down when I am with loved ones and friends so that I could truly appreciate them and share the presence of each moment as deeply as if we were contemplating our passing. I know I’d “act” differently and share more honestly.

      michael j


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