Being Present with Dying

By Kate Small I've been privileged to work closely with death and dying for the past six years. This work has challenged me, taught me, and changed my life. It brought me to practice. People close to death are skilled at detecting lies and often demand a high level of honesty from the people around them. Of course, I can only be honest with others by first being honest with myself. I practice walking meditation in the hallways on the floor where I work.

On the first rounds of a shift, I stop before entering each room and take three conscious breaths so I am fresh for the people in the room. I aspire to this practice all the time but, in the face of strong emotions or just plain busyness, I sometimes forget. I wrote a gatha that helps me to stop and breathe when working: "Normal saline, salty blood, ocean waters. Mindfully flushing this IV, I am aware of my connection to all of life." I also use the beeping of IV pumps as mindfulness bells, calling me back to the present moment.

There is really no separation between the caregiver and the person receiving the care. The people I've worked with have been mirrors for me. Working with a young man with extreme self-hatred was an invitation to see how strongly self-hatred lives in me. When I act out.of understanding, it is easy for me to take care of myself and others.

Kate Small, True Lotus of Understanding, is a Registered Nurse who works part-time with people with AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening diseases, providing end of life care.

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