10 ways to (mindfully) touch the dying 65



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Australians don’t like to talk about death and dying – it’s one of the last taboos. But it happens to all of us and we need to talk about it.

‘Dying to talk; talking about dying won’t kill you’ is the theme of National Palliative Care Week which starts today.

We’re very privileged to be able to share an article with you by Marguerite Manteau-Rao, the CEO and Co-Founder of the U-S based dementia care group Presence Care Project. A licensed Clinical Social Worker, Marguerite writes about the ways we can mindfully touch the dying.

You can touch your dying loved one with gentle words. You can also touch him or her with your hands, and that may be even more important, as touch is one of the last remaining ways that we can effectively be present for a dying person. This is about mindful touch, healing touch, a way of touching the sick or the dying that will make them feel connected, cared for, met, loved, not alone. It is an ability we all have. It is also something we are not always comfortable with. When to touch, where to touch, how to touch, how much? So many questions we may have as we sit by the bedside of our loved one . . .

One of the most powerful training I received as a Zen Hospice volunteer was from Irene Smith, a pioneer in the field of mindful touch for the dying. From Irene’s training, I have taken away these 10 principles:

  1. Know your comfort zone:
    Figure out where you stand with touching, and only do what feels comfortable to you.
  2. Get centered:
    Sit down by the bed. Pay attention to your breath, and let it slow down naturally. And listen in silence. Listen with your ears, listen with your eyes, listen to your loved one with your whole being.
  3. Simply touch:
    When I first heard Irene’s instruction, I immediately took it that I was to perform a massage. While massage may be a good thing for the dying person, often what’s called for is a much more ordinary form of touch.
  4. Make touch a part of the care routine:
    Bathing, brushing hair, changing diapers, feeding, transferring from bed to a chair, . . . these are all natural opportunities to mindfully touch your loved one.
  5. Ask permission:
    If the person can still speak, simply ask. If the person can no longer speak, or is confused, state what you are going to do, and watch for subtle body responses from the person for feedback that would indicate comfort or lack of comfort.
  6. Gaze softly:
    Do not stare at the person, and do not avoid their gaze either.
  7. Speak slowly and clearly:
    The person may need time to integrate what you are saying.
  8. Touch with intention:
    Touch from the heart, with love, care, and respect.
  9. Take your time:
    Don’t rush. Approach the person slowly, and move your hand just as slowly.
  10. Keep on checking:
    Keep on telling the person what you are going to do next, and keep on watching for responses, both verbal and non verbal.

And remember, mindfully touching your dying loved one, may be one of the greatest gifts you can give him or her, and yourself as well.

May you be at peace, and at ease. And may your loved feel the same as well . . .

Information about National Palliative Care Week is available here.

Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson is the founder and publisher of Starts at Sixty. The daughter of two baby boomers, she has built the online community for over 60s by listening carefully to the issues and seeking out answers, insights and information for over 60s throughout Australia. Rebecca is an experienced marketer, a trained journalist and has a degree in politics. A mother of 3, she passionately facilitates and leads our over 60s community, bringing the community opinions, needs and interests to the fore and making Starts at Sixty a fun place to be.

  1. I have also been with 3 of my loved ones in the past and always touched and spoke to them. This week my best friend was dying, I did the same but sadly he passed 45 minutes after i left the hospital.
    I hope I am not alone in those last moments.

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  2. I held my mothers hand and stroked it but I came very close to smothering her, she was in a comma and very agitated and moaning, this went on for hours and as each minute passed I got more and more distressed to hear her in pain like that. My sister stopped me from doing anything silly and the doctor came in and pulled me to one side, she was at a Poly Clinic, he said we have no morphine here, take this script you have 15 minutes to get the chemist and back or we will call the police, I drove like a maniac and got back in time, she died peacefully not long after they gave her the morphine. I was 35 years old at the time and not a day goes by that I don’t miss her

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  3. I think it is a natural instinct. Was with both my Mum and Dad when they passed. Your voice and your touch very comforting loving and powerful. Very important I believe to let them know that.they can let go.

  4. Held my mums hand till the end. Her final words. I’m so sorry. And I love you. Healed a lot of wounds.

  5. When my sister was passing away. A doctor told me to keep talking, & touch the face & neck area, as this is the last & more often the only place a person can feel you, not the hands.

  6. Been there, done that with my 25 year old son, heartbreaking, couldn’t do it for my mother, my husband had to!

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