Reflections on sitting Vigil

I was honoured to sit vigil with a lady a few nights ago. As a Hospice Volunteer, I am regularly called to sit with people, and bear witness to their final breaths. I usually receive a phone call sharing the persons name, age, and their location. You see, hospice is not a place. Our local Hospice Association assists people in multiple locations – Hospice House, the hospital, care facilities, or in their own homes.

In this case, her family was travelling in the wee hours of the morning from quite some distance away. Her beautiful friend had been at her bedside for days, in constant communication with family, attending to her any way she could as her friend’s health declined. She was in need of rest herself.

In fact, the friend of the lady who was passing is someone I know. I admire her very much. Over the years, I have come to learn that she is a woman whose caring and open heart has rippled to many, many others. I am thankful that she recognized that she, herself, was in need. And that she knew of our local Hospice Association and the caliber of volunteers who are specifically trained to assist in this way.

I was honoured to be among those called to sit and hold space during her friend’s final transition. She knows my hospice background and experience, and we have common interests. We keep in touch and have shared insightful conversations which I always look forward to. Hugging her at the bedside of her dear friend, and having her introduce us was particularly meaningful.

I usually don’t have any background about the person I am sitting with and offering comfort to in their final hours.  What they enjoyed, how they lived, what they are proud to have created or accomplished in their life, who they loved……. these are sometimes provided in clues, such as pictures on the wall. But often not.

We all knew it may be the last goodbye the two of them exchanged. For me, being entrusted to hold the sanctity of the space, to offer comfort, and witness the final breaths of someone she loved was love in action itself.

She knew those who were sitting vigil that night had assisted many others.

She knew the respect and tenderness with which we hold those in final transition, and the skills and gifts we have to offer in creating a safe and comforting place for others.

And she knew that sometimes, the person dying chooses a time when loved ones are not there as their time to depart.

I remain in gratitude for this beautiful honor.