As a hospice volunteer I am blessed to be included at the end of people’s lives. My daughters and friends sometimes ask me how I can do it. They think that it is icky or heart-wrenching. But to me I am the one receiving the benefit!

I get to observe many approaches to the end of life. Some patients approach it with denial … right up until their last breath. And some patients are very calm and peaceful about it, but their families are upset and anxious. And in some blessed situations the patient is peaceful and the family is peaceful.

The process of dying has a “life” of its own. No one is going to fail, and you really can’t do it wrong. When the timing is right, it will occur whether one is ready or not. Just as in birth, it’s going to happen one way or the other.

But people can make choices as they face their death. And those choices deeply impact the friends and loved ones left behind.

When a patient doesn’t want to talk about dying with anyone it seems to create more anxiety and sadness within the family. One of the loving things that those left behind like to do is to take care of matters, such as funeral arrangements, as the deceased would have wanted.

This helps people show their caring and affection for the one who has died. But if a dying person has refused to speak about matters then they rob the family not only of last conversations, but, for example, of having dad’s funeral just like he wanted. It can leave the family adrift, with no direction.

And those last conversations with a loved one … oh, my, how they are treasured. My father died when I was 17 and at that time my mother tried to protect the children from the fact that dad was dying. She felt that was the most loving thing to do, and it was all she could manage at the time. Consequently, I had no last conversation with my dying father, and it is a sadness I still carry after 40 years! I can tell my dad I love him in my prayers and meditations, but how much more it would have meant for me to look in his eyes, tell him I loved him, and know that he got it. That would have been such a treasured gift!

I’ve observed that the most beautiful and peaceful deaths occur when the family and the patient have talked, arrangements have been made, and goodbyes have been said. When that happens, there is a sense of “no regrets” and there is a completeness or closure. It is easier for the patient to leave, and it is easier for the family to accept their departure.

It may take additional courage for family and loved ones to have the final conversations with a loved one, or maybe we truly cannot bring ourselves to do it. If that’s the case, pat yourself on the back for having the integrity to be honest. Our choices reflect who we are in that moment. And the next moment may bring a different choice.

But if you do choose to have those conversations, I believe they will be treasured far more than money or possessions that may be left behind.

Author's Bio: 

Donna Belk is an educator in the field of death and dying. She works with individuals and families as a coach or guide for those facing end-of-life issues. She offers workshops in which she combines the philosophy of her 30 years of yoga study with her observations on death and dying. These workshops educate people about what to expect as one dies, how to prepare for a peaceful death, and how to care for your loved one after death. Visit Donna’s web site,, and visit the Education section for useful articles such as “How to be with a person who is dying.”