Whether you’re a caregiver or a health care practitioner, the importance of holding space for the person who’s dying is enormously important. It allows the patient to be able to spend their remaining time in a level of quality end-of-life care that includes non-judgment, allowing explorations of the life they’ve lived and the time that’s left.
There’s something deeply personal about learning how to hold the space for someone who is dying. Palliative care and hospice nurses can be a wealth of support and information, with things like how to take care of medications and physical care as the disease runs its course. But no one really talks about holding that space — allowing the dying person to die the way they want with the quality of life that they expect. It can be very hard to see someone you love or care for in pain, but with a few guidelines and suggestions, you can find ways to step out of your own way to give the grace of space.
- Trust your intuition and wisdom.
Health care protocols are in place for a reason and yet, they do not need to be blindly followed. Best practices of knowing the signs of when a loved one needs a touch, or how to hold them as they need to be turned in bed.
- It’s okay to not know all of the steps.
Giving people too much information and instructions can leave them feeling overwhelmed and unqualified.
- Don’t take their power away.
Even if you’re making decisions on the dying patient’s behalf, it’s important to recognize their wishes be honored. This is their journey and it is important to continue to make the person feel empowered by recognizing their wishes for treatment.
- Keep your own ego out of it.
It’s tough to keep yourself out and thinking that you know what’s best.
- Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
Be aware of areas where the patient may feel vulnerable, such as being naked while being bathed. Offering kindness and humility will help the situation and reduce the chance of the patient feeling shame and helpless.
- Allow complex emotions, fear, trauma, to come up for you and the patient.
- Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.
Holding space is about respecting each person’s differences and recognizing that those differences may lead to them making choices that we would not make. Choices are dictated by cultural or religious norms that we may not agree with or understand. This is where we pull our own ego out of the way and step aside.
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Learning how to hold space for someone can take time. It’s a process of learning and watching and letting go.