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When Life becomes Death

Founder of The Mindful Moment, Dr. Alexandra Domelle shares how to find peace when your loved ones are dying



I am standing in the hallway outside my mother's room.


The surgeon stands before me, so young and fresh-faced, he could easily be one of the medical students I teach.


"It won't be long now," he says. "We thought of operating, but there is a high probability that she'd die on the table. It's best this way, you know."


I stand there, my eyes glued to his. I don't want to look away, for if I do the tears will come. And this is not the time to cry.


So I keep looking into those dark, dark eyes - so dark that they remind me of pools of nothingness. The void. The emptiness.


It's not that he is cold towards me, or unkind. It's just that this is one of the many times during the day he will speak the same words to others just like me, "Sorry, there is nothing we can do."


It must take its toll. How else do you rise day after day, see such suffering and remain intact?


I, too, roam these sterile corridors, spending time with patients, listening to the words said and unsaid. My job isn't one of slicing and extracting like that of a surgeon. Nor is it of dispensing and bandaging like a nurse. Both were paths I considered long ago when I first went to med school but chose neither in favour of the understanding the mind.


No, my job is one of being present. It's listening to stories and holding unsteady hands. It's sitting in silence, watching the rise and fall of chests. It's holding shattered bodies and broken minds.


This is what I do, when not teaching, researching or mentoring. I come into these rooms in those moments in between and sit with strangers, with those who have no one by their side. These patients do not mind. If anything, they are grateful to see a smiling face, someone with loving eyes to watch over them, to hear their stories, to peel their oranges, to rub their feet.


But today is different.


It's my mother who is the patient.


Yes, I know this hospital, I know this ward, I know this room, and yet, it feels so different.

I have been here so many times before, but it all feels so new. The surgeon is new on staff, so he does not know who I am.


But would it really matter?


To him, my mother is the patient, and I am the family.


The news would not change. My mother's heart cannot be repaired. It has come to the end of its life. It's tired and just wants to rest.


I thought we had more time. But then I am biased, you know. I will always want more time. One more moment, one more breath, one more heartbeat.


But life is teaching me once again; there is no certainty of tomorrow. So why spend these precious moments wanting, wishing, waiting for something that is beyond your control?


Look at what you have now, right now. This moment is all that matters. It is the only certainty.


So I thank the surgeon for his time and return to the room, to my mother. And here I sit by her side, watching her chest rise and fall, listening to her heartbeat, present in this moment.


Death will come for my mother, for me, and even for the young surgeon. One day, we will all depart this place, leaving behind our bodies. I teach my students of birth being on one end of the spectrum and death, the other – and thus, life in-between. As my mother nears the end of her life, I am reminded of this, of constant change, of our impermanence.


Life will become death, but this is not something to fear. It is merely a shift from one state to another. Yes, there are tears; yes, there is grief; yes, there can be pain; but this is what it means to live.


And for all the moments I have experienced, I am grateful. For each one. The good, the bad, the ugly. It does not matter what they were, what I labelled them, or what they brought.


Even this one.


I am grateful.


And as I sit here, still and silent, but alert, I am at peace. #TheMindfulMoment