The dying make few demands on the living. They normally yearn for nothing more than that someone hold their hand as they take the final few stumbling steps on their life’s journey. Witnessing the death of my mother this year, I was struck how easily – how lovingly – the most caring carers took my mother’s hands in theirs or hugged her. The body ticks along, collapsing slowly, then quickly, packing up like some old car beyond repair. It does what it has to do, imbibing the few drops of water or morphine or expunging its waste, but somehow its mundane functioning seems remote from the great drama of spirit and heart that is being played out within it. And yet it is still what shows us we are who we are. Until the last breath.
William Blake said that the body was that part of the soul perceived by the five senses. When we touch the dying body we give comfort and relay our love with greater directness than any words.
To massage the swollen legs of someone who is dying or to relieve them of the numbness of lying day after day in bed by sitting them up and working gently on their back and shoulders, are acts of the heart. Speech is unnecessary. The closer the body is to death, the less you have to do to communicate your love. The language of touch is simple – so simple we can all master it.