There’s nothing as raw or terrifying as the idea of dying alone.
For anyone who has rushed to the bedside of a parent or grandparent or, heaven forbid, a daughter or son, those last earthly moments provide solace and closure.
Family gathers to say a last goodbye, or an I’m sorry or an I love you.
But what about those who don’t have anyone rushing to affirm a life well-lived? What would it be like to die alone, in a cold, stale hospital room as life rushes by on the other side of the door?
The dying need comfort more than they need mourning. Luckily, there are volunteers willing to provide that comfort.
The program is called No One Dies Alone, or NODA. Sandra Clarke, a nurse in Eugene, Ore., started the organization after a patient asked her to stay with him but her duties took her elsewhere. He died in his hospital room alone, with his arm outstretched.
At the University Hospital, Heather Smith, a social worker, and Brian Zenger, a medical graduate student, help manage a team of NODA volunteers who sit with dying patients.
Volunteers take three hour shifts to just be there. They can read aloud or play music or just talk, while holding the patient’s hand. The patients can’t usually respond, but they know they’re not alone.
And that could mean everything.
It’s the human connection that NODA offers — connection that is vital to life, and death.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox spoke of this same human connection this past weekend in a post where he opened up about suicide and the need to connect. Utah has the fifth-highest suicide rate in the country, and youth suicide rates have grown four times faster than the national average.
Cox shared an experience he had connecting with a high school girl visiting the Capitol who had thought about suicide. Cox’s simple decision to talk about suicide helped him connect with someone who needed it.
Everyone needs to know they are wanted and loved — the living and the dying. That is what the NODA program hopes to provide. And it doesn't require much.
As Smith shared, “Witnessing this intimate journey for another,” she added, “is sacred work that requires no more and no less than our presence.”