Missing the Moment of Death

alone at death

Question:
When my husband was dying, I spent as much time with him as I could. I didn’t want him to die alone and I promised him I would be there for him. But I left him for just half an hour and that’s when he died. I wasn’t there to hold his hand as he took his last breath and I have felt guilty about that ever since. People have told me there was no way I could predict when he would take his last breath, but I still feel bad that I let him down. Do you have any words about this that might help?

Answer:
I’m really sorry you are feeling guilty about this. It is true that it is hard to predict the exact time of death and no one can remain with a dying person 24 hours a day. Your husband may have just died by chance at the time you briefly left, but it is also very possible he needed to be alone to be able to let go and die. Very often someone will die when the person closest to them is out of the room or out of the house. I have heard of many cases where this was so. Some people may prefer to have someone nearby holding their hand, but others need some space. Your husband needed to let you go and go on in his process and perhaps he was more able to do that when you were away briefly. If you can forgive yourself for not being present at the moment of death, you will be more free to simply feel your  love for him and treasure the memories of the life you shared.

4 comments for “Missing the Moment of Death

  1. Lauren
    July 10, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    My father did just the opposite. He waited until shortly after my mother and I returned to his side in the morning in the hospital, arriving later than we had on any other day, as we were both exhausted. I watched as he took his last breath, while we held his hand and his brow. What does it mean when someone waits for you to be with them as they pass on? Was he not ready? was he frightened?

    • Judy
      Judy
      July 24, 2015 at 3:52 pm

      Hi Lauren,
      It is hard to know what your father was experiencing or thinking just before he died. Because death is such a mysterious event, we tend to make presumptions as a way to understand it. There are several possibilities in this case. Your father may have spontaneously died just when you came in, as the husband of the woman who wrote earlier may have died when she was out of the room for no particular reason in either case. But it is equally possible that your father wanted the comfort of your presence in order to surrender and let go. Or, maybe he knew you would want to be there at the moment of his death and he tried to hang on till then as his last gift to you. I wouldn’t necessarily presume that he wasn’t ready earlier or that he was frightened, although both are also possible. In any case, it appears to have been a wonderful and graceful moment for the three of you.

      • Lauren
        July 24, 2015 at 3:54 pm

        Thank you. : )

      • August 29, 2015 at 7:14 pm

        That was beautiful, in my case my husband named also Lauren was dying and I did not know how long he had, so I asked the nurses and mention I could leave and they will call me, see I spend the night by his sight and he was so peaceful and my daughter just arrive and saw how I look so tire that she mention I should go home change and shower, and as we were leaving for the hospital they call and say his breathing was slowing down, so we rush and unfortunately he was gone and it was a terrible blow that I was not there to hold his hand and talk to him, so I felt so guilty not been there with a man I married for 64 happy years and I still cry when I think of all those wonderful years we had together, he died in veterans day 9 month ago and he was a Navy man and I still feel him near me in my heart and soul, he was a great and kind man. We also had two beautiful babies and have 3 grand children and a great granddaughter he was the love of my Life, so I will always will cherish his memory and love.
        Thank you for asking about my experience.
        Elsa G. Chamberlain

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