Sitting Vigil:  A Caring and Compassionate Presence

by Lois Brummet, RN, MSN, CHPCN(c), DVHS Hospice Volunteer and Ken Clarke
“It shouldn’t be like this.”  Her words expressed not just disappointment but a level of sadness as she shared with me how upsetting it was to have a roommate in one of our long-term care facilities pass away in the night, all alone.  The staff was aware her time on earth was coming to an end and checked periodically, but no one was there to hold her hand or speak softly to her; to be that comforting presence in her final hours.

It’s a scenario that repeats itself far too often.  We can do better; we must do better! 

We are privileged to having caring health care staff to meet the physical needs of the dying and many provide a measure of emotional and spiritual comfort and support, but they will be the first to tell you that the demands of the job do not allow for the time needed to sit vigil; and for some they do not feel adequately equipped to provide this kind of support. 

It may be that some choose to leave this world on their own, choosing perhaps to spare a loved one from being there at the end; it can be very sobering to watch someone breath their last breath.  But knowing how real the fear of death is; that journey to the unknown, I cannot help but think we do a disservice to the dying when we fail to provide this basic kindness.  Desert Valley Hospice Society has trained, compassionate volunteers who can help meet this need.

The truth is, there are times when we do not want to be alone; for many, this is especially true when actively dying. Hospice volunteers accompany clients so they are not alone in the last days or hours of life.
A vigil might allow family members to get some sleep, enjoy a meal and take a break. For those who don’t have loved ones by their side, a vigil can provide the kind of comfort that can only be offered by another human being.
Vigil volunteers offer companionship and presence. They might dim the lights, share quiet music, read or simply sit and hold hands. Some vigils are held overnight to allow family members to get some much-needed rest. For clients with no one by their side, vigils might last for several days, with vigil volunteers tagging in for two-hour shifts, offering around the clock support. 
From my (Lois) diary: 
     Although Tony had said “goodbye” to his long lost – newly found love, distance kept them physically apart. I answered Tony’s bedside phone and told Tony it was his love, calling to say good night. As I held the phone in one hand and had my other hand in Tony’s over his heart I gave him the good night message. Within seconds I knew that Tony had died. I felt like a conduit for their love, from earthly love to heavenly love.

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