Dying without witnesses

Charles 4 Comments

Posted by Vale

It happens so often: you sit with someone for hours or, sometimes, days yet the person you have accompanied with so much love and care chooses to die the moment you leave the room. This is Dianne Fahey’s poem about the experience.


We, your children, were there
In other rooms

And my mother beside you;
Yet you died

Without witnesses…
Was that how you wished it,

Death’s ultimate privacy?
So clear and frail you lay

Jaw set in closure,
the drama consummated.

I was the one who’d known
inside my bones

how far from death,
and when you would go.

But, guiltily tired,
I kept no vigil,

Was called from dreams
by my brother. All of us

Kept watch for a while
slept again.


Long ago.
You’d let me sleep,

An exhausted eight year old,
rather than take myself to mass.

Unversed in mortal sin,
you’d calmed my sorrow

saying, ‘God will understand’ –
unwaveringly as if you knew.

Once only did you use that word,
eschewing fixities

Though prey to restless doubt.
Later you’d ask

did I ever wonder
what it was all about,

your mind working at
puzzles, painful memories.

You anchored yourself
in what you had learnt,

the knowledge of what you must do.
Out of innocence,

a quietly difficult life,
you shaped a wisdom

And inherit the reward of seeking:
the gift of a good death

You can find more of Diane Fahey’s poetry here.


  1. Charles

    Marie de Hennezel, she who wrote the wonderful book “Intimate Death” reports that she often observed the same phenomenon, as if the person who is dying wants to spare the family members, and allows herself to go when alone for a moment. Or maybe focusing on those present around the bed keeps vital processes going a little longer, and then relaxing from that effort allows them to die.

    I expect you’ve read the book Vale, I was late onto it, but I’m always happy to use any excuse to plug the book.

  2. Charles

    I loved that phrase’gift of a good death’ maybe it’s such an intensely intimate thing you can only do it properly alone? Off to reread Hennezel’s INTIMATE DEATH thanks for the prompt Gloria!
    Many times people say this has happened — ‘ We just popped out to get a drink/go to the loo/to say goodbye to xy or z and when we came back s/he’d gone…’They feel guilty, I like to reassure that sometimes their beloved needed to go alone.

  3. Charles

    I sat by my mothers bedside for 3 days, then we agreed to turn off her Life support, still I sat, the moment I need to pop out shall we say , i had no sooner go to the door of the ward and the nurse said she’s gone.

    A friend of mine told her husband to go pick her a rose from the garden something she had always forbidden him to do, she died whilst he was away.

    Working as a funeral arranger I heard this so many times. I was angry with my mother at the time, but after hearing so many stories about it happening.. I honestly believe they do wait for you to leave, or for the family to be there.

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