Authentic Connection and Intimacy
One day, while on site in my professional role at a 10 bed hospice residence, a male palliative patient asked me for a cup of tea, which I prepared and delivered to his room. A conversation about his life and family ensued and Brent invited me to sit for a while. He was waiting for his wife to arrive for a visit and was in a contemplative mood. In his early sixties at the time, Brent quietly began reflecting on the many gifts and lessons he had embraced on the journey. They were clearly more pronounced in his thoughts as he faced the end of his own physical life. At one point in the conversation he said that he had always had a great relationship with his wife, but was amazed at how much deeper the intimacy had become with her during his time of dying. It was different than what he had experienced before in their many years of marriage. Brent became quite emotional as he shared this reflection; grateful for her love and care. I listened to his heart as he expressed the beauty and surprise of this occurrence. He did not know that I was a widow and also had had a similar experience when my husband was dying.
It was not the first time I heard someone share this truth. How surprisingly intimate a time it can be when companioning a loved one, a spouse, or partner to end of life. Brent didn’t mean intimacy in a physical sense though our need to connect during this transition is still prevalent; holding hands, hugs and touch are so important. In that moment I knew he was referring to intimacy in a much broader sense.
Since my husband’s death I have reflected often as to why that time was so different in its quality of intimacy. Was it because we were more aware of time and the value of each moment not to be squandered? There was clearly an element of that at play. However, beyond that truth, in our modern world where distraction from real connection can easily capture our focus and attention in a myriad of ways; companioning someone dying is just the opposite. It asks for full presence, empathy, compassion and is a time of profoundly authentic connection. Pretense is stripped away and vulnerabilities laid bare. Not the same as the romantic beginnings of a relationship (though that is fun too!) when posturing and our best selves are at the fore. In dying, the social masks are challenged and fall away to a truth, a deep vulnerability, perhaps honesty that is so raw and real it somehow grips you. It invites you into a rich time of discovery if you are willing and courageous enough to respond to its call. It is a different kind of romance, in a higher sense, that is transformative and a reminder of the truth of a more honest and courageous love. A love outside of oneself - hard stuff but it is also somehow breathtakingly beautiful in its purity. Intimacy of a different sort is born out of this level of trust, reliance and acceptance. A blessing shared with another especially during times of humbling vulnerability.
We don’t have to wait until the end of a life to know this, nor should we. The mirror of death is there to remind us not to forget the importance of deep connection with those closest to us and that we can have it at any moment if we choose. It is a choice and a privilege that emerges when authentically engaged in loving another which should not to be taken for granted. What may seem simple or mundane in day-to-day routine then becomes prioritized, valued and dearly missed in unexpected ways when lost after a death.
Experiencing true intimacy on this level with someone you love and who truly “sees” you is clearly a sacred experience that can transform and enrich life in untold ways.