The Need to Touch

Walking by a hospice room,  I noticed an elderly woman, reaching through the side rails of the bed in which her husband of 62 years was dying.  She was understandably in pain as she stroked his hand and spoke softly, tho he was already in his final coma.

I instinctively walked in and asked her is she needed to climb onto bed and hold her husband – spoon him – one last time.  Her face lit up as she exclaimed, “Oh, yes!”

These were his final hours of life, their final hours as a couple.

This last memory is important, and with this ‘permission’,

she was able to hold the love of her life as he died,

and he was embraced by her love as he died.

What could be better?  A bittersweet but important memory.

We often forget how important touch is, how important it is to hold our loved ones near the end.  Sometimes it’s fear of hurting that person or a fear that embracing may be considered inappropriate at this time.   In healthcare we need to actively  normalize it, encourage it if comfortable for both parties.    It’s calming and can provide a sense of ultimate peace.

It is is a more common practice to encourage parents to hold their dying baby.

But I have to say, that if it’s my 63 year old son who is dying,

that’s still my baby.

I need to hold him.  I want to be supported by staff to make it possible to hold him as long as he is comfortable with that.  Move the pillows, arrange any tubes.   This intimate and sacred time will never be repeated.

Encourage touching, holding, talking. In the end, for both people,

this may be the most healing activity we can render.

7 thoughts on “The Need to Touch

  1. I am very passionate about care, and palliative end of life care, which is so important and must be got right xx I always encourage relatives and loved ones to be close to the ones that are near to dying, and have helped a couple to hug together lying in same bed and embrace each other, and made the last moments special calm and peaceful and the wife afterwards was happy to have spent the last moments like that xx we need to get people’s future wishes right xx

  2. Tani,
    We advocate this same level of touch. And we add, as I’m sure you do, to change the atmosphere of the room with dimmed lights whenever it is permitted. Most all institutional settings have florescent lights which can’t be dimmed. For your loved one, bring in a floor lamp and connect it to an extension cord that has a dimmer attached.

    You can buy one at most hardware and home center stores. The staff can always turn on the ceiling lights if they need it.
    The instution may want to sanitize it in another space before it is brought into the room, even though they allow all kinds of other things into the patient areas.
    This one of dozens of ideas we include in our book about creating heartfelt familiy experiences before, during and after a time of a death and planning meaningful services and ceremonies of remembrance. We would love to connect with you and allof the readers on this thread.

  3. You are so right. Our very first customer for “Friendly Beds” was a great couple in their high eighties. The woman told me that she had crawled into bed and held her husband as the end came- I still tear up when I think of it.

    • It’s nice to see a company like yours improve the ability for a couple to remain in their beds together rather than placing a regular bed next to the hospital bed. It’s not the same. I trust you are marketing hospices?

  4. Absolutely agree! Mother Teresa picked persons out of the “garbage” and held them during their last minutes. When we give birth, our child is given to us to hold and to hug. No one if possible, should die alone and without being held, touched if possible.

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