Sitting next to someone who is dying, is for some people, the greatest challenge of their lives. You are not only watching your primary partner die but, you are reckoning with the death of your relationship with them, your identity as a husband or wife (which will be gone), and your identity as living in a particular household. Your whole way of life is coming to an end. Every habit, every personal and family way of doing things, your use of many possessions on a regular basis: all of this is coming to an end or has come to an end. It’s a time of great mourning and loss for the dying partner, yes but, also for you.
All of this is a major stress, and made worse by the length of time that process of dying has continued for, if it’s beyond what was predicted and expected. It’s sad for the person dying, that the joy has gone out of his/her life now, and sad for you to watch the one you love the most go through this.
Also, the impending death of someone close to us, or their actual death, is continually reminding us to look at ourselves, to evaluate our lives, and to decide what we value going forward. I have thought a lot about whether I am living a life consistent with my values, in light of the fact that I too will die sometime sooner, rather than later. (My life is obviously more than half over, at nearly 65.) So, it’s an intensely self-reflective and introspective time. From my perspective, it is or could be very humbling.
Typically, when I’m working with clients who are evaluating their lives, people are looking at their regrets, remorse, guilt, shame and all of the difficult feelings that have arisen throughout their lives, and haven’t been dealt with in the best way. What I say to them is some variety of the following: “while the emotions are difficult, their purpose is always to move us in a different direction.” The emotions are supposed to move us to a change of heart, of words, and of deeds. If the emotions don’t move us to that, they are just something we are flooded with, and in which we are drowning.
The best suggestion I can make is to take all of this emotion and see what changes you want to make within yourself, as a result of all of this grief and the end of your life together with your partner. The emotion is “fuel in the engine of change.” It will help you turn what seems like an entirely negative experience, into the motivation for change, and for choosing what kind of life you’d like to live going forward.
You have both relied on each other to be your primary ‘company’ as is natural for partners. So, without him/her as the primary listener, it must feel like you are very much alone. Perhaps after he or she passes and you have time to mourn, it will be time to come back into the world, and begin to take an interest in the lives of family, friends, and neighbors in a new and different way.
During this time, it’s wise to rely on the company of others who know your partner and you, and the love and support that they can offer. It’s also wise to understand that your life is going to change forever: you’ll never be the person you were with your partner, with anyone else. Your partner will have brought out your uniqueness in a very particular way. Nonetheless, your fundamental uniqueness will remain within you, as does the Awareness that is the deepest part of who you are. Rely, ultimately, on your identity as Awareness as the Rock that will get you through all of the changes you will experience.