At Dying Beds

At dying beds I’ve experienced a lot of silence – which felt at times good, at times disturbing. Dying people will be almost always be in coma in their last hours (and, mostly, days). What hinders us from speaking with the dying?

  • As family members, we may be in a shock state, frozen or confused.
  • We may be insecure if they hear and understand us.
  • We may be insecure what is relevant and helpful for them.
  • We may feel insecure what the staff thinks of us if we behave unconventional.
But surely, if we find out what hinders us from speaking and acting, this can free us and widen the range of our possibilities, to the benefit of both ourselves and the patient.

Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to notice and interpret any nonverbal reactions of coma patients. In other cases we need to sharpen our senses. With no other body reactions left, often there are still reactions on our words, or on caressing, in the patients’ changing his of breath style and rhythm (unless on a breathing machine).
If we do find tiny nonverbal reactions or changes of the way of breathing, the questions are:

  • Does the patient show this behavior repeatedly (every time) when we bring up a certain topic or do something particular (or when a certain person is arriving or leaving or being mentioned)?
  • Do we rather see the reaction as one of stress or relief?

I would like to summarize a few things that I have learned from the Encounters I had with dying people.
1. Treat dying people as living people.                                                                              2. At a dying bed, get aware of what hinders you from acting and speaking free. Free yourself to get flexible.
3. Observe which tiny reactions (movements, mimics, breath) the dying person shows repeatedly on certain key words, persons, behavior. Are they reacions of stress, relief or interest? Which are the triggers?
4. Dying patients may be in coma, but they’re usually not deaf. Choose your words well. No catastrophic medical descriptions or burial talk.
5. Create rapport. Introduce yourself and tell your aim shortly. Use body contact, use your voice and breath pacing.
6. See a coma patient as someone who is already in trance. Create rapport. Interventions can start right away, without induction
7. The subconscious responds strongly to imagery. Speak in a dream language. Use metaphors, avoid abstract words.
8. Breath pacing and leading can regulate pain or breath problems (and can regulate breath down till it almost stops).
9. Breath, blood pressure and heart rate can also be regulated by metaphors (f. e. of a flying eagle, a pulsating jellyfish or a manta ray).
10. Speak about emotional content rather than about facts.
11. Express in metaphors or more directly that it is possible and good to let go – of live, of psychological problems of body problems.
12. Use metaphoric terms to speak about the good future.
13. Introduce thoughts like “You can love them from the other side”, “things will change, relations go on”.
14. Use negative terms only with a good reason. Except for pacing strong pain, don’t mention “pain” but “body sensations”. Teach this to the relatives.
15. People will rather die when they’re ready to go. What may help: Rituals, a bye-bye from family members, messages of “letting go”.

You Can Love Me from the Other Side

Having learnt that dying people may well notice when their relatives decide to let go of them and, if you will, allow them to go, I more and more integrated the theme of „letting go“ in my work with dying people.

I remember being at the dying bed of a man. His wife was next to him. They knew each other only since two years and had been very happy with each other. He had been inspired by her Christian faith and had adapted more and more of it for himself. I had met him in a clear state some days ago. Now he was in coma. I told him about about a coat rack for his troubles… that he could imagine the cloak room of God where he could lay down anything that would burden him. He could take off any fear or grieve and it would be taken care of. After that his wife said that he could let go and that she could let go and that he could express his love to her also when he is on the other side and that he could care for her from over there. A quarter of an hour later he died without struggle.
I kept her intervention in mind which is summarized: “You can love me and care for me from the other side”. Sometimes I say to people: “What is going to come is just the invisible second part of your live together.” The difference which this makes both for the ones who leave and for those who stay is remarkable.

La flor en la isla

En una pequeña isla en medio del océano extenso crecía una hermosa flor amarilla de oro. Nadie sabía cómo había llegado allí, porque en esta isla no había ninguna flor aparte de ella. Las gaviotas venían volando para contemplar este milagro con asombro. “Es linda como el sol”, decían. Los peces venían nadando. Levantaban las cabezas encima del agua para admirarla. “Es linda como un coral”, decían. Un cangrejo salió a la tierra para mirarla. “Es linda como una perla en el suelo del mar”, dijo. Y todos venían casi cada día para admirar esta flor.

Un día, cuando volvieron para contemplar la flor, se encontraron con que los pétalos dorados de la flor se habían vuelto marones y secos. “Ay de nosotros”, dijeron las gaviotas, los peces y el cangrejo. “El sol quemó nuestra flor. ¿Quién ahora nos refrescará el corazón?”. Y todos se pusieron tristes.

Pero algunos días más tarde apareció en lugar de la flor una maravillosa bola de color blanco tierno. “¿Qué es eso?”, preguntaron los animales. “Es tan blando como una nube”, dijeron las gaviotas. “Es tan ligero como la espuma de las olas”, dijeron los peces. “Es tan fino como el resplandor del sol en la arena”, dijo el cangrejo. Y todos los animales se alegraron.

En este momento un golpe de viento barrió la isla y sopló este milagro blanco dispersándolo por ella en miles de copos. “Ay de nosotros”, hablaron las gaviotas, los peces y el cangrejo. “El viento ha dispersado nuestra bola. ¿Qué alegrará nuestro ánimo ahora?” Y todos estaban tristes entonces.

Un día por la mañana, al levantarse el sol sobre la mar, allí en la luz dorada matinal relucieron cientos y cientos de hermosas flores color amarillo de oro. Entonces bailaron las gaviotas en el cielo y los peces en el agua, y el cangrejo bailó con sus amigos una danza de rueda en medio de las flores, y todos se alegraron.

(Por Stefan Hammel, traducción: Bettina Betz)

The Crooked Bird

Another contribution by Katharina Lamprecht who will also be at the Festival in October

Sometimes there is a little sparrow sitting on the clothesline in front of my kitchen window. I like to observe him, he is quite funny and quite different than the other birds. Somehow he always looks as if he was a little tipsy. He dithers a bit on the line and you can see that it takes an effort to keep his balance because he sticks out one leg and flaps his wings. He generally makes the impression of being quite dizzy. But it doesn’t seem to bother him at all, on the contrary, I get the feeling that he enjoys his slanting position very much.

A friend of mine, who is an ornithologist, said that this phenomenon goes by the name of “crooked bird”, common knowledge amongst experts. He explained, that there are indeed many birds, who love to frolic through storms and high winds. Back and forth, up and down, left and right they let themselves dash around by the wind until they don´t know anymore where they are, don´t know up from down or back from forth. And it is obvious that they have so much fun with it, that they keep the dizziness even when there is no wind at all. Just like the sparrow on my clothesline.

Scientists suspect that these crooked birds have a kind of inner anchor. Somewhere in their bodies has to be a place that gives them the needed security to be able to always find their way and relate to a stable, secure, safe and unshakeable point, no matter what. In this way they can relax, be calm and at ease, at least internally. They can feel straight and upright even if they have no orientation in the outer world. The scientists cannot determine where this inner anchor is but they are quite sure, it´s there. Perhaps one can compare it to the radar that bats use. This we can´t see either but there is no doubt it´s there.

“We don´t really know how all of this functions, but it has to be somehow like that”, my friend said and grinned. To be honest, I´m not quite sure if I can believe his story or if he wanted to pull my leg. But watching my little sparrow, reeling and rocking with obvious delight on my clothesline, I keep thinking that he surely must have such an inner anchor. Even if he has not the slightest idea, where it is or that it even exists. But it´s got to be in there somewhere, an area within him that gives him the absolute certainty to be safe and sound in all of these dizzying situations. An anchor that keeps him upright and gives him balance.

So seeing him on the line, I imagine that, the more he careens, the bigger and stronger the anchor in him gets and he is even more centered. With stormy winds outside and the feeling of security and safety inside, the little sparrow can enjoy his crookedness as much as he likes. And I wonder, where my inner anchor might be…

The Balloon

A therapeutic story by Katharina Lamprecht, with whom, along with our Swiss friends Adrian Hürzeler and Martin Niedermann, I have written the book “Wie das Krokodil zum Fliegen kam” (How the crocodile learned to fly)…

No one in the community knew, when exactly the festivity would take place. But that it would happen, everyone was sure of it.

When the day came, they all gathered at the meadow near the village. So many people. Not only from the village but also wanderer, passing by accidentally, stopped and many shared the moment. In the middle of the meadow was a booth where everyone could choose and take a balloon filled with helium. There were red, green, blue, yellow and purple ones. Some had faces on them, some stripes or dots. It was all very colorful.

One after the other the people let go of their balloons. And up they rose into the blue-grey sky. And what a beautiful sight it was. At the beginning they all stayed together, a colorful bunch of balloons, like grapes on a grapevine. But after a while, some of them got loose, they peeled away and began their very own journey.

And one of them, I don´t recall whether it was the red one or the green one or perhaps the one with the little dots, this one made its way calmly and silently to a place where the others didn´t go and he got lost in the vastness of the sky, to fly far far away. Perhaps even to the stars.

¿Dónde están las estrellas durante el día?

Ella tiene dos años y muchas preguntas. “¿Dónde están las estrellas durante el día?”, por ejemplo le pregunta a su padre.
“En el cielo”, contesta este, “así como por la noche.”
“¿Entonces están apagadas? Es que no brillan para nada.”
“¡Claro que sí! Siguen brillando. Pero el sol es tan luminoso que ya no se ve la pequeña luz de las estrellas. Es como cuando ya no oyes música baja si de repente alguien pone en marcha una máquina ruidosa. La música baja todavía está, solo ya no se la percibe. La música está acallada y las estrellas están deslumbradas.”
Ella piensa un momento y dice: “Ahora sé también donde están mis sueños durante el día cuando estoy despierta.”

(Por Stefan Hammel, traduccíon: Bettina Betz)

El vuelo del águila

No sé si ya alguna vez hayas visto un águila. Claro, en el parque zoológico, pero en eso no estaba pensando. Si uno ve un águila en el zoológico, esa parece sin ganas, cansada y medio dormida. ¿Pues qué debería hacer? Un águila fue creada para volar, y eso no lo puede hacer en una jaula, en todo caso no verdaderamente. Lo que a mí me impresiona de las águilas es su fuerza y como la manejan. Se podría pensar que un ave tan grande también aleteara fuertemente cuando vuela. Pero eso no le hace falta a un águila. Traza círculos en el cielo, y aunque solo pocas veces mueve sus alas, puede subir hasta que la perdemos de la vista. ¿Cómo es que el águila sabe que es capaz de volar? Si un semejante animal pudiera hablar – creo que no empezaría a cuestionar la existencia del aire antes de ponerse a volar. Las águilas no necesitan pruebas. A ellas les basta de ser sostenidas. El resultado les sirve de prueba.

Un ángel para el camino

En el siglo anterior, en nuestra región vivía un hombre que era conocido por los milagros que sucedieron a menudo en su cercanía. Personas que habían sido declaradas incurablemente enfermas se recuperaron después de que él había rezado por ellas.
Ese hombre tenía una costumbre especial. Cuando se despedía de alguien, solía decir: “Te mando un ángel para que te acompañe en el camino.” Mucha gente se extrañaba de eso. Por un lado ya en aquel tiempo había muchas personas que no creían en ángeles. Y entre los otros había algunos que podrían haber dicho:” ¿Cómo puede mandar a los ángeles? Es que los ángeles sólo obedecen a dios.”
No sé si eso sea correcto. Incluso tengo dudas, si la gente que dice tales cosas en realidad entiende lo mínimo sobre los ángeles. Pero sé que mucha gente, que habían visitado a ese hombre, volvía a casa llevándose una paz profunda. Y desde ese mismo día se sentía amparada. Por eso me da igual lo que piensen los otros si ahora te digo: “Te mando un ángel para que te acomp

La brizna de pasto en el desierto

Un hombre estaba atravesando el desierto. Al rededor de él no había nada más que arena, piedras y rocas, el cielo azul reluciente y el sol ardiente. En la mitad de su camino se le ocurrió descansar y buscó un lugar adecuado. Un poco lejos del camino encontró un peñón que le podía ofrecer sombra durante su descanso. El hombre se acercó. Al llegar vió algo raro: En la sombra de le roca crecía una brizna de pasto, de hecho.
“¡Qué sorpresa! ¿De dónde vienes tú?”, le preguntó el hombre. Después se rió de si mismo:
“Estoy tan solo que empiezo hablar con la hierba. Será mejor examinar de donde viene ella.”
Excavó la plantita de la arena y la puso al lado cuidadosamente. Después empezó a cavar más y más profundamente. Aunque no tropezara con un manantial brotante, en ese lugar el suelo estaba verdaderamente mojado. Cuando el hombre de nuevo se puso en camino no olvidó de reponer la brizna en la tierra mojada. Con unas piedras construyó un pequeño muro para proteger la planta contra la desecación por el viento caliente del desierto. Después siguió caminando.
Al regresar pasó por el mismo lugar. Por supuesto miró si su pequeña planta estaba viva. Se alegró mucho: La brizna se había vuelto en un verdadero pequeño manojo de hierba. El hombre cavó un poco más profundamente y llegó a una parte aun más mojada de la tierra. Con un pañuelo, dos palos y unas piezas de cuerda, que había traído para el regreso, mejoró la protección de su planta contra el viento.
Muchos años después un amigo del hombre tuvo que atravesar el mismo desierto. Entonces le pidió a su amigo: “Pues mira qué fue de mi planta – si todavía existe.” El amigo se lo promitió. Cuando éste volvió del viaje le contó: “Tu manojo de hierba se ha vuelto en una pequeña pieza de prado. Otros viajeros han encontrado el lugar. Han subido el muro y puesto más palos con pañuelos. Alguién ha cavado un pozo y lo ha cubierto con una pieza de cuero. Al lado del pozo crece una hermosa higuera . En sus hojas canta un grillo.”

Everything Else

In a land in our time there lived a man, who read a book and found lots of wonderful stories therein. There were true and invented stories, experienced and pensive, enjoyable and painful stories. There were stories which contained stories, and such which were actually not stories. For every story he read, there occurred to him nearly five which he had either experienced or thought up himself. So the thought came to him, that a lot in the world was a story which could be healing for himself and others; he only needed to absorb the healing stories well and to forget the terrible ones immediately. Then he would learn which story he had used when and for what. So he organised his own stories which he knew, and which had become a help to himself and others, or could become so. Sometimes he noted it down when a new story came to his ears and sometimes when a helpful story occurred to him, he memorised it.

Then he saw before him in a picture the storystories of this life arranged in long shelves, as in a large pharmacy. And behind the counter there sat a man who had learnt to listen to himself and others. He was a master of his subjectspecialty. His talent was that he understood how to tell the right thing at the right time to himself and to those who visited him.