Why we ensure that no one dies alone…and why we never forget those experiences.
If you’ve experienced being with a person when they died, it’s very likely the memory of the experience remains vivid. Why is that? Because dying is sacred, holy, and transcends the explainable.
Dying is the profound process that bridges this life to the hereafter — and I feel strongly that it’s important to be accompanied by someone at the time of death. As one nurse told me, “We come into this life with the help of another human being, and we should leave this life with in the company of a human being.”
For many reasons, there are people in our hospital system who are alone as they near death. Our nurses knew the need for having someone with these patients as they neared death, but they were often too busy with other responsibilities to be able to keep the vigil with a dying patient. That’s one main reason our No One Dies Alone program was created 13 years ago.
How “No One Dies Alone” works
No One Dies Alone, which was established and is coordinated by Intermountain Volunteer Services, is a network of about 60 trained volunteers who can be notified via email that there’s a non-medical need to be with a patient who is dying. The program’s volunteers willingly come to the patient’s bedside.
Sometimes they’re there to provide respite for family members who are exhausted and need rest; sometimes they talk with or to the patient; sometime they just sit with the person to be present with them as their journey away from this life approaches. Our No One Dies Alone volunteers have served more than 100 dying patients over the years.
Training for our volunteers consists of increasing their understanding of:
- The dying process
- What patients may experience, such as being able to hear and to feel someone’s touch
- How to pray in accordance with the patient’s faith, if it’s known
- What it means to be “present,” often in silence
- When to call for medical help
Mother Teresa said, “Each human should die in the sight of a loving face.” Some years ago at the Home for the Dying in Calcutta, I had the opportunity of seeing her words in action. Home for the Dying trucks equipped with gurneys travel the streets of Calcutta. Drivers and assistants stop at any sick body they see on the streets — and there are many. The men carefully lift the person and drive them to the home. There, destitute people are lovingly cared for by the sisters clothed in the famous blue-trimmed white saris. Mother Teresa’s words ring true as the sisters compassionately care for dying patients until their death — in the sight of a loving face.
One of my own shared experiences was with a man at Intermountain Medical Center who was in a coma and had no family. As I sat with him, holding his hand and speaking softly to him, I stopped and wondered about him. Our staff knew almost nothing about him, since he was brought to our hospital from another state with no family present.
I prayed for his peace and comfort, trying to help lift him to all that is holy and good. I hummed songs that may have been familiar to him. He didn’t move; he didn’t respond. I was grateful to be with him as he took his last breath. It definitely moved my spirit.
Recently we had a No One Dies Alone watch for a very elderly man. Our volunteer was a young woman who’s expecting a baby. As I entered the room I heard her singing softly. She said she’d just read a few poems to the man. She said she thought of the circle of life — the new life within her and the life of the patient just ending. She said being there was a profound experience.
Every No One Dies Alone volunteer has experiences to treasure and every volunteer possesses the indelible mark of a time that will forever remain in their memory — the honor of being with a fellow human being at the time of death.
If their family can’t be with them, we’re their family in the moment, and we bond with these patients immediately. No one is born alone, and no one should die alone.