Dying Next to Strangers

March 17, 2020

When my mother died, she was in the arms of her daughters. Snuggled up together, in bed, hearing prayer and words of affirmation. We whispered “I love you”, over and over, even after her last breaths. 

Repeated “I love you’s” to ensure it couldn’t be forgotten, by her, or anyone else in the room. You see, the room in which my mother died, housed a dying woman, but also those who loved her. 

The room where she entered eternity was filled with the people she held closest to her. It was filled with her people. It was filled with love. 

Today, there are rooms full of the dying, the ones near their final moments and last breaths. And the rooms in which they lay, are empty. 

I sit here in tears thinking about the new restrictions and what they mean for our dying loved ones. Restrictions preventing families from visiting their people. Their mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, aunts, and uncles. Restrictions created out of necessity, to give the best chance of health and survival for our weakest. Guidelines that will significantly change the dying moments of so many in this world, and the hearts of everyone who loves them. 

Loved ones will be dying next to strangers. 

Deathbeds will not be surrounded by familiar faces. Deathbeds will no longer hold daughters snuggling their mother one last time. They won’t hold husbands telling their wives “I love you” while twirling the golden ring that graces her finger. They will not hold sons hugging their father while tearfully affirming he was the best parent a kid could ask for. The beds will be empty. They will only house the dying. Surrounded by nurses, and medical professionals, but not the ones that filled their life with love and joy and memories. 

Our precious loved ones will be dying next to strangers. Or worse, empty seats and empty rooms. 

The moment the last breath slipped from my mother’s lips, my life changed. It was a moment I hated. One that still haunts me. But it was a moment important for me to be a part of. A moment that I’d eventually be appreciative of and thankful for.

And today, our beloved family members are dying next to strangers. Emptied of the opportunity to be with those important to them. 

If this doesn’t send tears to your eyes and an ache to your soul, then you either have a strength the size of Hercules, or the inability to imagine this reality and heartbreak. You’ve never seen the impact of someone’s final breath, like some of us. It’s the oddest mix of a treasured blessing and an excrutiating torture. A moment you cherish and also despise. 

Today, I pray for each person who is in their final moments, unable to see and hear the people and voices that they’ve cherished in their lifetime. I pray they feel wrapped in love and comfort. I pray they know the depths of their influence and the endless lengths of the legacy they leave behind.

I pray for each soul that will occupy the seat next to the dying. May they feel their importance. May they provide a comforting face, a compassionate heart, and a hand that feels like home. 

I pray for the loved ones who are forced to stay away, without the opportunity for final goodbyes. Robbed of the last chance to speak the silent emotions in their soul. I pray passionately that guilt does not find their hearts. I pray they are blessed with a sign from their loved ones. One that is so evident and fierce it cannot be ignored. A sign that says, “I know I am loved and I hope you know the same”.  

May all of the people who live this reality find a way to navigate this pain. A pain that not many can understand. 

If you find yourself consumed by the chaos, disappointed by the missed events and closures, or the way life has changed, remind yourself to have a humble heart, an empathetic soul, and a mind that comprehends people are dying next to strangers.

xox, Chels

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2 responses to “Dying Next to Strangers”

  1. Tracy says:

    Beautifully expressed as always. This is such a heart wrenching time.

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Chelsea Ohlemiller

Chelsea Ohlemiller

A thirty-something wife, mother and educator who has Indiana roots and a passionate spirit. Chelsea is a sappy romantic, coffee junkie, book collector, and person who wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s sarcastic, full of jokes, full of tears, and enjoys writing most when life gets messy or complicated. In 2017, Chelsea's mother passed away. Through her grief journey, she decided to take her mother’s advice and share her writing with the world. One day she gained the courage to honor her mother's wishes and write. It turned out to be one of the best decisions she's ever made.

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