Comforting the Dying

Comforting the Dying
written by Susan Goldberg
published March 04, 2013

Carolyn is in her late 80s, frail and often confused. She sleeps most of the time, hasn't eaten much of anything in a few days. It's been two weeks since she's left her bed in the long-term care (LTC) home where she came to live six months ago. She's having difficulty breathing; she coughs when she talks to her son, who sits by her bed, holding her hand. Her words don't make much sense, but she has occasional moments of clarity, times when she recognizes family members and the regular personal support workers (PSWs) who provide the bulk of her care each day and night.

During one such moment of clarity, in the wee hours of the morning, she opens her eyes and looks directly at her PSW. "Am I dying?" Carolyn asks.

A panicked look passes across the face of the younger woman who is caring for her. What's the right answer? What can she possibly say in this kind of situation? She's silent for a moment, her mouth open, before making a 'timeout' signal with her hands. "I'm not feeling comfortable here," she announces to the room at large. "I could use some feedback."

And the scene stops.

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