Every now and again, I would sponge his face and hands with rosewater or massage his feet, which were very swollen, with calendula and meadowsweet infused hempseed oil.
I placed the roses close to him and I kept using the sprays I’d made which kept the whole room fragrant while also helping to uplift his mood (and mine!) He particularly asked for sweet orange oil. ahpca.ca/sacred-aromas-essential-oils-for-end-of-life-care
Later, I made other sprays with cypress and frankincense to ease his onward journey. I’d made some special beeswax and meadowsweet balm which kept his lips from drying more effectively and comfortably than the vaseline the hospice used.
Homoeopathy helped him with side effects from medication and me with the grief that overtook me from time to time.
Flower Remedies helped both of us by soothing the worst anxieties.
When the pain medication meant that he could hardly communicate without great effort, I stayed close by, sleeping in a chair drawn up close to his bed, giving him Reiki by simply holding his hand, www.reikicouncil.org.uk/Reiki-Research.php singing lullabies, speaking softly to take him on a meditative journey to places he loved, the High Wood, walking by the sea, or swimming in the Mediterranean off a Greek island. These were pictures that made him smile.
The morning dawned when, as I dozed in a chair drawn up close to his bed in the hospice, something changed. In an instant I was awake, but I had no idea what had woken me. Then I realised that his breathing had altered. From a stertorous half-snore, he was breathing lightly, quietly, without effort.
His face had softened too, looking more peaceful, but he was burning up. I began to disentangle my hand from his, and felt his close briefly on mine. He still seemed fast asleep, sleeping peacefully now, as I moved to turn on the fan to cool him. I returned to my watchful position beside him and soon became aware that his skin was cooling rapidly. I turned off the fan and went back to his bedside, holding his hand, stroking his hair, whispering sweet nothings. A few minutes later, his breathing became so light it was almost non-existent.
Then it stopped. Quietly, silently. I simply waited, holding my own breath. He took another soft short breath. I waited a little longer, watching him, sure there would be one more. There was — a gentle sigh. And I knew he was dead. I kissed him, his skin already cool to the touch. Tears streaming down my face, I kissed his hand and let it lie quiescent by his side. I anointed his forehead with a drop of frankincense.
Then I took a few deep breaths … and called the nurse.
Outside, the rain stopped and the sun came out as clouds floated away.
My abiding memory of those last few days was of the love that surrounded us, from family, friends, staff and healers, but most of all streaming from our own two hearts, melding into the fragrance of roses and reminding us that death is a part of the wonder of living.
As my beloved Richard wrote to me — his own version of the words from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:
‘A time to love and no time not to love,
A time to be apart but never a time to be alone,
A time to fight and a time to surrender,
A time to live and a time to die.’
Let us all do what we can to make our own passing, and its aftermath, as easy as possible for those who tend to us and those we leave behind.
Photo by Marion Eaton