Witnessing Deep, Rich Love, Sorrow and Pain in Others

By Emma Pearson

May 25, 2024

Image by Whoislimos on Unsplash

17 October 2022

I spent some deeply touching moments, minutes, hours yesterday evening, during my shift at the hospice.

We have a beautiful new resident. She is a true beauty. Glorious skin and hair. Luminous eyes. Not so many people who are nearing their final days are graced with such luxuriant beauty.

She is 50. Two years ago, well into pandemic times (yes – that recently), she was diagnosed with Edward’s brutal disease – Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM).

Operated on – like Edward.

Radiotherapy – like Edward.

Now unable to move one side of her body – like Edward.

Blind in one eye – like Edward.

Starting to find speech, swallowing, remembering words – especially in foreign languages – difficult – like Edward.

It is hard. I identify with her at so many levels, for she was also widowed (much younger than I was, with a much younger child). She also found a new love with whom she had three more children, who are already almost grown.

But all of them are reeling. Especially the second husband.

Ready access to his emotions. Tears streaming down his face after she had successfully mastered her phone during dinner, and put on a favourite singer. Looking her husband straight in the eyes as she sang the words of love. Tears now rolling down all our faces. Then later when tucked in bed, her holding one of my hands and one of her husband’s hands, and me holding one of his so that we formed a circle together with our hands. A love, support, sadness, grief circle of understanding.

Her weeping and simultaneously admonishing her husband for weeping too.

Her saying to him – “I will be okay, you don’t need to cry”.

Me saying to both of them – “It is okay for him to cry. He loves you so much”.

And leaving it at that.

Not saying that he will be okay.

Not saying that their four kids will all be okay.

They might not be.

He might not be.

I can see the devastation already. His life ripped at the seams. Too much going on. Too few resources at all levels.

I have a tough time in my volunteering at times.

GBM is triggering for me.

Pancreatic cancer is triggering for me.

Young residents with not-yet-grown children are triggering.

Residents with large families are often harder to get to know as we prioritise visits from their family members. We spend more time with the very elderly who have outlived their spouse, their contemporary friends, where remaining family members might visit more sporadically, rather than daily.

To have that sacred and intimate moment with both the husband and wife, together, alone, with them, felt so precious.

I don’t remember a time where that happened when Edward was there.

And I certainly didn’t allow anyone else that intimacy when Mike was there.

But it would have been rich. For all of us. As well as the volunteers concerned.

I think most of the volunteers at the hospice feel most strongly, the greatest connection, with the person who is dying. When they feel deep empathy and compassion for anyone in the system, it is usually the person whose life is going to end shortly. Our year-long programme for volunteers focuses 90% of the learning on the needs of the person who is dying, though we have one module on Family Dynamics, and another on Bereavement and Grief. Those are my favourite modules. Or at least, the ones I probably facilitate most learning in.

I realised yesterday, though, that most of the time I identify, I resonate, most strongly with those who will be left behind.

The spouse.

The children.

The parents.

The siblings.

Even the friends.

Those are often who I ask my questions about when we have transmission sessions from one shift to the next. And they are the people who I seek out, watch, monitor, during the time I get to know them. Who I try to give voice to when their needs might be overlooked or diminished. Who I ask after when their loved one has died.

I often wish that the hospice had a Grief support service, but it is beyond our available resources.

So much harder to support. Grief.

Life – being end-of-life – is so much more finite. Almost “neat and tidy” (even when it isn’t).

Death will come.

But Grief?

It’s much less tidy.

Less finite. Infinite, even.


Hard to read.

Impossible to imagine.

About Emma Pearson

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