While we can imagine ventilators and intensive care units, the dying experience love, presence and even touch from deceased relatives. They remember the memories of being held and valued, of the apotheosis of a life and not of its demise.
They teach us that the best parts of life are never really lost. The teaching seems to be clear: the entirety of our human experience can never be defined or reduced to its last moments.
This may be a small consolation for those left behind – whose grief would have been reduced by their ability to hold the hand of their dying loved one – but it can relieve their pain. Knowing that dying is more than the suffering we see and may not be as isolating as you fear.
Where one form of presence is missing, another emerges and compensates for the isolation of the disease. Where medicine can no longer heal a broken heart, other lesser known processes often intervene.
Ultimately, the way we experience or imagine the death of a loved one greatly affects our suffering. While there are no words that could dissuade or detach us from the realities of loss, those of us who work on the dying person's bed can testify that patients experience love, meaning, and even grace in their final moments.
The dying often experience a summary of the best moments in their lives and feel more connected than alone. Today we also console ourselves with strangers standing behind the clothes and masks on the bed. They replace family and friends who cannot.
Perhaps we will be reminded again in these dark moments that we are often at our best in times of need. We are connected through our common humanity and never really alone.