What Caring Is All About

Photography by Paul Talbot

Photography by Paul Talbot

For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our task; the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is by preparation.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

The image of walking alongside, or accompaniment, for me beautifully captures the essence of what we do when we care for someone who is nearing death. It honors the natural human quality of caring for another and recognizes that loss, illness, and death are shared human experiences, without disregarding the need for professional expertise and knowledge.

My experience with John, a close friend who died of AIDS, helped teach me this lesson about the importance of human care and connection at the end of life. John was one of San Francisco’s long-time survivors. As his condition worsened and it became clear that he wouldn’t make it through his latest health crisis, John decided to leave the hospital so he could die at home, supported by his commun­ity and a few close friends.

 When I came over to visit him the first afternoon he was home, I asked him what I could do to help. “Just be my friend,” he said, with some sadness. The simplicity of his statement touched me and everyone else who was present with him that afternoon. His words brought home what caring is all about.

Being a companion to someone who is dying ultimately has nothing to do with responsibilities or roles. Just like being a good friend, it simply means we are willing to listen and be present to the unique experiences of a fellow human being, and how that person chooses to fill these experiences with meaning…

Excerpt from Present Through The End. A Caring Companion’s Guide To Accompanying The Dying by Kirsten DeLeo.

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ArticlesKirsten DeLeo