The Good Shepherd

I would like to say something about breath pacing, and about texts that we can recite to a dying Person.
I knew Mrs. Seiberth, and we had liked each other. I knew that she was a religious woman and that she wished that her son would come and see her. Asked why he doesn’t come she said: “He’s living far away. – But also, he is afraid of seeing me so sick.” When I was visiting her now she was in coma. She looked into an empty space. With every breath she made a coughing sound. I put my hands on her arm. Calm and slowly, with long pauses in the pace of her breath I recited the psalm of the good shepherd. Her breath went calmer and the coughing noise went silent. But at the words “thy rod and staff they comfort me” the coughing came back. Maybe they reminded her of something that made her sad? The concept of systematic desensitation of fears came to my mind. So I repeated these very words so often in a very calm and friendly tone till the coughing disappeared again. Then I continued. At the words “in the presence of my enemies” the coughing came back. I did the same procedure of repeating the words in a friendly tone till the coughing was gone and she was breathing calmly. At the words “Goodness and mercy will follow me all my life” her breath got even calmer. So I repeated these words many times till it got even calmer. I finished the Psalm and said “I would like to say bye-bye now.” Immediately the coughing noise came back and continued with every breath. “I will come back, I will come back, I will come back…” I said, and the noise disappeared. The next day I visited her I read the same psalm to her. Her breath was calm and silent all the time. Only when I said that now I would leave the coughing noise came back. “I come again, I come again, I come again…” I said till it was calm again. The next day I was about ninety minutes later than on the previous days. Entering her room I saw a man who introduced himself as her son. “She’s died an hour ago.” He said. „Was she still alive when you came?“ „Yes“, he said. (Stefan Hammel, Handbook of Therapeutic Storytelling, Karnac, London 2017/18)

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