It’s easy to miss the practical companioning aspect to the care of the dying in our modern, acute-care oriented health system.
Creativity and Life coach Helen Carmichael lives in a Bondi flat with a view over that iconic Sydney beach and she watched from her window as an elderly neighbour lay dying in the street. The neighbour had left her house but hadn’t got far before suffering what appeared to be a heart attack.
Helen knew her by sight but didn’t have a stronger connection than this. Someone had called the ambulance and paramedics had arrived soon after and attempted to revive the dying woman.
“It was a very busy scene and there were people everywhere, everyone rushing to do something. A nurse who had been attending to the woman was on the phone talking intently,” said Helen.
Helen’s one regret was that no one stopped and actually sat with her neighbour while she was dying, since all the medical authorities were so busy.
“I kept wishing that someone would just stop what they were doing and sit with her. No one sat with her while she was dying even though this was the most important thing to do.
“So despite the bustle of people around her, she died completely alone.”
“I thought about going down and sitting with my neighbour but then decided, rightly or wrongly, against it because of the number of people already there and the level of chaos.
“I felt my presence would merely add another element to the mix because my behaviour would be perceived as “getting in the way” of the others and thus add to the already high degree of tension. Plus it was obvious that my neighbour had already died. I was really conscious that I didn’t want to die in circumstances like these.”
Helen lamented the contrast between this and a very different story.
“I have a friend who recently returned from Papua New Guinea. A whale had beached on a shore. A young girl came and sat on the beach with the whale. She didn’t rush around trying to save it. She stayed with it the whole time, singing to it until it died, even though that took a day and a night.”
Helen wished her neighbour could have had the experience the whale had.