This is a story about love. It is also a story about immense pain and loss. This is a story about life and growth.

This is about those fleeting moments where if you blink, you miss it, but when you are fortunate enough to bear witness, it floors you, cracks your heart wide open and fills you with such pure love and humility – if you let it.

In my work as a nurse, I am so privileged and so humbled to be able to help people and their families with my skills and knowledge on what often is the worst day of their lives. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day routine of work sometimes. In all honesty, you can find yourself becoming a bit numb to the trauma, the grief, the suffering and the hurting you see on a daily basis. It’s a really fine balance to walk when you need to maintain your own mental health as well as show up to every single one of your patients with complete presence, compassion and professionalism. Every. Single. Time.

This Day Was Like Many Others

My patient was critically unwell, she was on life-supporting machines and monitors as she could no longer breath for herself, she was not waking up and it was becoming more and more evident to me that she was not going to survive. A scan showed that her recent sudden deterioration had been the result of a long-term condition that had become now terminal and the only thing keeping her alive was the ventilator she was connected to. There was no cure or recovery from this.

For me, this is my everyday work in the Intensive Care Unit. Caring for patients on the edge of life.

Her family – husband, daughters, sons and young grandchildren were all at her bedside. Her daughter told me that just that only a couple of weeks ago she was out and about at home, even driving her car. To see her mum laying in the bed with all the tubes and leads attached to her must have been so surreal and unbelievable, but she seemed accepting of the fact that her mum was unlikely to ever wake up again.

Empathy and Grief

Having worked as a nurse for over fifteen years now, I can say that I have seen the full range of the expression of human grief. I’ve witnessed people cycle through the five stages of grief over weeks, days and sometimes even over hours, or a matter of minutes.

Grief is raw, it is palpable and cannot be ignored. When I’m with families and their loved ones I can’t help but feel it with them – but I feel it in a different way to my own personal grief.  Being with people in what is often the darkest and most powerless days of their life is something I’ve always seemed to be able to do, even when it is ugly, confronting and even violent.

“For me, this is my everyday work in the Intensive Care Unit. Caring for patients on the edge of life.”

Over the years I learned that the simple act of being present and using my intuition to listen to families during times like this was the best way to help them. Holding space for them at the bedside and ensuring precious last moments are spent together is not a science, not something you can learn from a book or even something you can adequately write about. It’s actually something I consciously process and reflect on in retrospect, as at the time my intuition guides me and I often find myself just ‘doing’ and not really even ‘thinking’. In the past, whenever I try to say something comforting I feel uneasy, like what I’m saying is inadequate and awkward. It’s when I communicate with my actions and gestures that I feel I am doing my best work for them.

When Soul Has Decided It Is Time

My patient’s family were all in agreeance that she would not want her life to be prolonged on machines with no prospect of ever recovering. After discussing as a group with the doctors, all her family and myself it was decided that her breathing tube would be removed and the focus of her care would be to ensure her comfort until she died.

Knowing that the moment the breathing tube was removed my patient would most likely not breath for herself again, I wanted to ensure the family would be there for her final moments of life as they had told me they wanted to say goodbye to her as she went. I removed the tube and got the family back into the room quickly.

The Beautiful Final Moments

Before I could step out of the room and give them privacy I saw her husband lean over and kiss her lips. He said to her with tears glistening in his eyes “You haven’t been feeling the best love, now, have you?”. To his, and certainly my surprise, she OPENED her eyes, looked over at him, shook her head twice and mouthed quite clearly the word “No”. She then shut her eyes, her body took a small breath as I was watching her chest, but she didn’t move again after that.

At this point, my heart centre swelled with the feeling I can only describe as pure, divine love. It was so warm, pulsing and buzzing and instantly my eyes began to well. I slowly backed away to let other family members move closer.

Only Love Is Real

As I write this, I still am lost for words. But what I can say, is that what I witnessed that day was the expression of pure love in the most intimate and fleeting moment of the lives of strangers. It was so powerful and pure, it cracked me wide open and reminded me that being present, holding space and allowing myself to feel reveals life’s most beautiful gifts.

To witness a woman coming out of unconsciousness in the final moments of her life to say goodbye to her husband and all her family is nothing short of a divine gift for all who were present.

To say your final goodbye to a loved one and know they were accepting of their own passing would have to be one of the rarest and sacred things you could ever experience. For grandchildren to see their grandmother pass in a supported and loving way for me was extraordinarily precious. It’s something I wish I could have experienced when my grandmother died, as there were so many things left unsaid and many unanswered questions. I don’t know if being present would have answered them, but I didn’t get the chance to know.

As we logically know, death will happen to us all. However, through technological advancements in healthcare and the cultural adaptation with that, we have medicalised death, made it almost a ‘failure’ of the healthcare system if a patient does die. But turn on any news channel and there is death and violence, we expect it and we become numb to it. Yet paradoxically, when death occurs in our lives it seems to be so much more sharp, unexpected and this amplifies our experience of grief so much more.

“To witness a woman coming out of unconsciousness in the final moments of her life to say goodbye to her husband and all her family is nothing short of a divine gift for all who were present.”

I’ve seen and felt it many times in the lives of strangers I care for: often I sense an undercurrent of urgency and panic that relatives are holding in those final days and moments, on top of the obvious sadness and pain. I wonder if it is the feeling of regret of not saying something to their dying loved one when they had the chance or the sadness and shame of holding grudges with them for years and never resolving them.

The Truth about Love

This story is about the expression of love, the pain of experiencing the death of a loved one and my overall gratitude for the opportunity to experience and witness this in the lives of strangers. For in this experience, my capacity for empathy and knowing divine love increased as I felt the connection and love between the husband and wife, and just intuitively knew this was just one part of their journey as souls together.

“…my heart centre swelled with the feeling I can only describe as pure, divine love.”

This reminded me of an incredibly beautiful book (one of many) by Dr. Brian Weiss called Only Love is Real. It is about the love and loss experienced in the lifetimes of two patients he was treating in his practice, and that the spiritual growth of our soul often happens with soulmates, our spiritual companions we meet with again and again through time in each of our many lives. We are always growing, each at different rates – ultimately towards the knowingness that the true essence of Source is love, and that is the only thing that is real in this life and beyond.

We are always growing, each at different rates – ultimately towards the knowingness that the true essence of Source is love, and that is the only thing that is real in this life and beyond.

 

By Lisa Kotz

* Some details of this story have been omitted for privacy reasons

Only Love is Real : A Story of Soulmates Reunited

Dr. Brian L. Weiss

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