So, my mind is going a million miles a minute, analyzing my current experience w/ Wes being on hospice etc. So I'm going to keep stepping back and writing about it in neutral, general terms. The things I am thinking about are general principles, social scripts and dynamics, and appropriate boundary issues...stuff that is uncomfortable because it doesn't get talked about and our culture (as I've said before) lacks solid rituals surrounding these areas of life (well, I think we do have them, but each of us feels like we are reinventing the wheel...because they are unspoken rituals. I am here to speak of them).
I've posted before, the article about supporting a grieving person, with the concentric circles...that one vents outward and supports inward. So, based on the same model, where the person who is dying is at the very center and their spouse next to them, and kids...and then concentric circles of intimacy moving out from there, let me say some things about support, friendship and how to walk with a person/family who is going through end of life stage:
1. If you are Pluto, do not try to be Mercury. When a person is getting ready to die is NOT the time (generally speaking, there are always exceptions I suppose) they are going to want to be building new relationships. If you have barely acknowledged their existence in your life up 'till now, but your heart goes out to them in this situation, add them to your prayer list and move on. Don't invite them to coffee or out to dinner (they won't have energy for that anyways) if that is not already what you have been about, as a friend.
You might think to yourself "Oh, but my offer is kindly meant and they will see it for what it is." As an insider to such a situation, currently, I can say: Your offer IS kindly meant (acknowledged), but it is also a source of stress for the person/family. Any time the center is put in a position of having to say "yes" or "no" it is stressful. It might be only mildly stressful, or be more stressful depending on your relationship...but know, there is stress involved in each interaction. This stress is unavoidable, but it can be reduced. I am pointing out this stress, not to tell the world to go away...but just to teach about the energy/relationship dynamics going on in such an intimate life-phase.
2. There are wonderful not-too-intimate ways to help a person who is dying, or their family. Cutting grass, running errands, giving rides to other dependent family members, bringing meals...This is what love looks like from a community. Support at this level is invaluable and relieves the family members to do the heavy emotional lifting (and physical) required of them at this time.
3. The same is true for the main caregiver: If you don't already have a close relationship, now is not the time to build one.
4. If you give, give freely. The family of the dying is in emergency mode, and is exhausted. Do not get offended if thank you notes are not forthcoming, or are completely forgotten. The gratitude is there.
5. The best analogous event in our culture that we DO have social scripts for, is the birth of a baby...only this is analogous in an opposite way. Who gets to be in the birthing suite? Who will be there when a person passes? Who is changing diapers? Who is dropping off meals? Ask yourself: If these people were having a baby, what would I do for them? That is the same level at which it is helpful to participate in end of life community support, based on your current relationship.