A touch of love for the dying


A young tiny pleasant mother came to see me for a severe pain in her wrist. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she tried to bear with the pain. She injured her wrist whilst washing the soiled sheets from her mother’s bed. This was a daily chore for the young lady, which she did most willingly. Her mother has terminal cancer and is on a nappy.

The young lady gave up her job to care for her mom. She never complained once about caring for her mom, it was an absolute joy for her. She was upset that her pain limited her from caring for her mom, whom she loved ever so dearly. Her mother was in hospital for a short period, so it gave the young lady some time to rest and allow her wrist to heal.

I was totally impressed by the young lady’s level of caring and  when I expressed my admiration  to the young lady about her caring attitude,  her reply was, “my mother was everything to me, doctor, she sacrificed so much to raise me, I feel it is my duty, I love her to bits”. She was most grateful that her wrist was responding well to the previous week’s treatment because she wanted to be ready to care for her mom once she was discharged from hospital. She became weepy as she mentioned that the hospital told her that there was nothing that they could do for her mom because her organs were all failing. It bothered her that her mom could not eat . She stocked up on energy drinks and protein foods in the hope that her mother would eat and get better.

I tried as best as I could to explain to the young lady that when the organs start to fail, the appetite disappears. As the organs continue to fail, patients slowly drift into a coma and when that happens, giving food becomes extremely difficult if not impossible. I realised that hearing this information is an extremely difficult pill to swallow, especially when one is very close to the dying as this young lady was to her mother.

I told her, now that the doctors  can do no more for her, she is the only one who is the most important person in her mother’s life. In the final stages of her poor mother’s life, food is secondary to the love she needs from her family. I told her that her mother is eager to be home with her, just to hear her voice and feel her touch because her mother must be aware that she doesn’t have long to live. If her mother refuses to eat, I  urged her to merely touch her, hold her hands and gently stroke her like she would do to her little child because her mother is now an adult child.

I recall the words of a very dear friend I visited at hospital many years ago. She was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer and was on heavy doses of morphine. Her face lit up when she saw me and forced a smile through all the agonising pain from the cancer that was eating her away slowly.  She cheerfully said, ” I am so very glad to see all of you by my bedside, my family and you, my dear friend. I am old, I am must go to my maker, but I am so glad that I have all of you around before I go, because it is so lonely to go alone”. I have never forgotten her words.

My friend’s word made me realise how important human contact and the loving human touch is to the dying in their final moments in their life. To all of you who are stressing about a near and dear one that is in a terminal stages of their life, my message to you is: if you cannot keep them from going, let them go peacefully and let them know that you are there by their side all the time, play soft music, speak to them lovingly without expecting them to respond because they can hear you even if they cannot respond. Your loving and caring presence is the greatest gift you can give to the dying, so give it generously and lovingly. We can fight for life but we cannot fight death, so let our dying leave peacefully, lovingly and with dignity.

Dr Ellapen Rapiti is a family physician, specialising in child and mental health and addiction counselling.