Finding the Life Within Dying

man lying down with eyes closed

Sitting up in his bed, Bill gave me a faint smile as I entered. He had lost the ability to talk due to ALS. He communicated to people by looking into a computer screen that then spoke his words. As I came up to the side of his bed and offered greetings, he said via the automated voice,  “I am alive.” Tears rolled down his face.

“I want to keep opening and growing to the very last moment,” he said. “I want to teach my children how to die well.”

An electrifying calmness filled the room. Bill’s courage and sense of aliveness were palpable. His body was deteriorating and not long for this world, and yet his spirit was bright.

“We are not our mind,” he told me. “We are spirit. My spirit is getting stronger.”

My heart expanded and opened as I sat with him and witnessed his desire to experience each moment fully. In his acute sense of the present moment, my sense of the present moment sharpened. I took a breath and asked for strength and guidance from God.

“Present-moment living means, non-attachment, which means unobstructed love—pure love,” he said.

A week later, I sat on Bill’s bed as he again looked intently at the computer screen. He said, “I feel death coming. I want to move towards it not away.” I shared words of assurance and prayers. Bill closed his eyes and reached for my hand.

I thanked God for Bill and the opportunity to be with him and his lovely family. He was a beautiful man in his sixties who had a rich life that was ending too early. The courage, strength, and openness with which he lived into each moment was nothing I had witnessed before. As a practicing Buddhist, he wanted to continue to learn what living in the present moment really meant. In those final days, he felt the deep love of his wife and children by his bedside. His gentle smile and warmth were captivating.

A week later, the hospice nurse paged me to say that Bill was near the end. When I arrived at his home, his wife greeted me at their front door with a smile and a big hug.

Bill no longer wanted to communicate with his computer. He lay in bed, eyes closed, and on and off a faint smile crossed his lips. We sat together, and I held his hand. Words were not necessary. Love filled the room and the spaces in and between us.

I thanked him for our time together and expressed gratitude for all he had taught me. The corners of his lips moved up.

He passed the next day, calm, peaceful, with family gathered around his bedside.

In the last days of his life, Bill moved fully beyond his mind and into his heart. Being fully in the present moment, the now, allowed him to live from the space of “I Am” that was free from attachment and fear. In the now, Bill found pure love. In the now, Bill was able to be fully alive.

Name and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of this patient.