Holding Space

I’ve been spending time with my 96 year old cousin the last few weeks. She’s in home hospice, stable. When you ask her how she’s doing, she’ll tell you she’s the same as she was yesterday and the same as she’ll be tomorrow.

I have no idea how to hold space for someone who’s slowly dying.

Her friends have done this before. One woman brings a bottle of my cousin’s favorite nail polish—OPI, Don’t Toy With Me—and gives her a manicure. They hold her hands, arrange her pillows, rub her back when she itches. One couple brings a strawberry milkshake, putting in a mug so it’s not too cold for her to hold. Almost everyone brings Chinese food.

I bring my knitting, to have something to do with my hands. I ask her about growing up in New York, about the time she spent in Germany working for the Department of the Army. She doesn’t have much energy to talk though, and has trouble hearing my questions. Mostly, I sit and knit.

She’s outlived the rest of her family. It’s just my mom, my mom’s sister, and their kids. When I visit, she proudly introduces me to everyone in the room as her cousin. It’s what keeps me coming back, despite how surprisingly difficult I’ve found visiting with her to be. I don’t want to become familiar with the indignities of old age, don’t want to learn how to talk to someone who may live another week or another month or another year. Not yet.

I sit with her until she falls asleep, then wrap up my knitting and drive home.

4 thoughts on “Holding Space

  1. You’re doing just the right thing. Just be there and sit with her. Letting her know she’s not alone. As hard as that can be. She’ll talk when she has something she wants to talk about. And maybe she’s holding space for you.
    Blessings for doing this. Hugs to you.

  2. It sounds like you’re doing exactly what you should be doing, and the best thing you can be for her.

    End of life care / interventions was a hot topic while I was in medical ethics land given demographic shifts that we’ve been ensuring will happen in the next several decades while ensuring that we’re not at all prepared for.

    Home hospice and being around loved ones who will remind you of nice things, make you feel unalone/loved, and who will allow you the space to reminisce or sleep as you are given to is 100% the best thing as far as I can tell.

    For people who are struggling with letting go (eve forbid you ever confront that situation), weirdly the research around this kind of thing still seems to be promising (though 2017 was the last time I looked into it).


    In any case, bully on you for being a good human being. We make that difficult in our society, so it’s always heartening to see it done.

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