These two words are the best way to move through the experience of death and dying. A person facing death may be filled with an emotional whirlwind and a great many questions about what will happen to them as they decline. Loved ones can struggle with the demands of caregiving and anticipating a life without the person that has impacted them in many ways. A doula can find it challenging to resist the urge to supple answers, take over, or make a death conform to some idealized view of how it should occur. Being present allows meaning to emerge, eases suffering, and can lead to inner healing, even in the midst of physical pain or heartbreak. Being present is simple, but it isn’t easy. It requires intention and attention. It requires holding space for the resilience and strength inherent in the human spirit.
When you are being present you are open and aware of what is happening in each moment as it unfolds. The edges of things seem sharp and clear. You notice the smallest of expressions on a person’s face, you hear the worry and pain they don’t put to words. You can intuit the questions they are afraid to ask. You see the tenderness in the way a person touches another’s face; how a person fights off their tiredness; how a person walks into a room with their inner busyness trailing behind them.
You can invite your own feelings and thoughts to be there without needing to offer them out loud while you gently hold the thoughts and feelings of another—the sublime and the terrifying—in the spaciousness between you. Being present in this way is sacred. It shatters the superficial way we ordinarily respond to people. It lets go of the past and refuses to anticipate the future.
In being present we are aware of the unique, preciousness of every moment in the shared space of a deep engagement with another. It is the epitome of mindfulness. Not just to know what is happening in our body and hearing the sounds around us, but knowing what is in the hearts of people we are with, listening intently to their suffering, their joy, to where they shut down, to where they hide.
Being present avoids the impulse to fix a situation, to judge another’s behavior, to try and get something right, to change what in this moment is real. This is the opposite of what our culture honors and rewards. Yet, it is exactly what is needed for a person to find their own answers as they face death or grieve a loss.
It isn’t easy to hold on to being present. It takes practice and effort. It takes missing the mark and returning again and again through the breath, through centering. But when you can drop down into that space, time seems to stand still, the world feels more expansive and it becomes easier to help another person discover what matters to them in the reality of this moment. The more we practice this form of being present, pushing through our habits of disconnecting and longing for something other than what is right here, the better we will get at being present and helping others to do so as well.