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Bearing Witness & Holding Space 
Started by Digger
25 Mar 2013, 2:44 PM

This arises from the discussion around helping with grief. (see How to accompany someone who is grieving?)

Bearing witness and holding space for someone in the dying journey seems to help both the dying and the living. The terms are not easy to define or extract from our personal experience, yet so valuable to share when we do.

What is your experience with bearing witness and holding space?

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Reply by eKIM
26 Mar 2013, 3:46 AM

There is an elderly couple at hospice right now.  They have been there more than a month.  He is dying, she is nurturing.  She is with him every day and sleeps in his room every night.  They are from “the old country”.  They have been married over half a century. 

He is at peace with dying.  She is always smiling, and chatting and creating a positive, even cheerful atmosphere.  He luxuriously bathes in the warm waters of her love – he smiles all the time.  They are a shining example to all of us at hospice.

As a hospice volunteer, I bear witness for them by marveling in the story of their love and telling them so.  They both know how fortunate they have been to have had each other’s love.  Their love is so powerful that, you can easily see how their love conquers the sadness regarding his dying process.  They both seem to want to minimize the negative and maximize the positive in the short time he has left.

I hold space for them by briefly joining them in their beautiful “space”.  I stay only briefly each time to let them maximize their time together.  The time I do spend with them is spent in prayer (they are very religious), listen to the stories of their wonderful life together, or contribute to the positive environment that they desire and have created.  I tell them how the example that they set has enhanced my own marriage and how many of us at hospice have said the same thing.

Love is like jam.  You cannot spread it without getting at least a little bit on yourself.


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Reply by Digger
26 Mar 2013, 1:54 PM

The scene you describe is beautiful and rare KIm. To be with the same partner for a life and a then a death is beyond words.

Sometimes just showing up and allowing is what the dying person wants. No judgement or attempts to fix and often not saying anything at all. The hard part is holding back our own fear and sadness so they are not in the place of having to comfort us. This was evident with my ex-wife. In the last week of her life I had to focus on being present for her - my melt downs were in private.

What i know now is that dying, especially the late stages, engages all of the person who is about to pass. Our loving task is to support them by giving them persmission to die and holding the silent space.

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