Thoughts at the Bedside: Creating Sacred Space


Saying goodbye is tricky business. Sometimes our own emotional needs overwhelm us and make it harder to keep our focus on the dying person.

A prior post, Last Words, explores what to say when saying goodbye. Megory Anderson explores a different dimension of saying goodbye, creating sacred space by attending to some very practical needs. You can also download Megory Anderson’s practical suggestions at

Reclaim Grace and Dignity for Your Dying Loved One

Thoughts at bedside: 10 ideas to engage family and friends in “Spiritual Presence” for your loved-one.

De-clutter the bedside area.

Set the space apart using candles, music, etc., to create a calm, peaceful atmosphere. This will be the “sacred space” around your dying loved-one.

Within this physical sacred space keep the focus of any conversation on the dying person.

Allow intentional conversation with or about the person, but no idle chatter among visitors: keep that outside.

Take cues from your loved-one regarding practical matters.

If there is no indication that s/he would like to discuss or handle practical things, keep these things well away from the sacred space. If you know the person’s wishes regarding privacy, make sure they are respected.

Take turns or assign someone as “doorkeeper” to shepherd the transition from the outside hubbub to the sacred space.

It can often be helpful to establish a daily or weekly schedule with family members.

Take cues from your loved-one regarding not only physical needs but emotional and spiritual as well.

Don’t take center stage with your own emotions. While your own needs are certainly valid, if all eyes are on you and the comfort you need, consider stepping outside the sacred space to allow the focus to re-shift to the loved-one.

When s/he begins actively dying, the most important element of vigiling is your calm presence. It is a solemn gift.

To hold this quiet space so your loved-one can transition as easily as possible, use tools that you have already gathered in a “vigiling toolkit.” Items to include: special objects to hold that have personal or religious meaning (a prayer shawl, a favorite scarf, a rosary), reflective readings or books or prayers, music, candles (flame or battery). Traditional prayers are often used, but other favorite readings can be appropriate, too. The idea is to personalize these items for your loved-one.

If you are at home, don’t be surprised if family pets want to participate.

If possible, let them behave naturally: on the bed or on your lap, etc.

Friends/family who can’t physically be there during this time can still be involved from afar.

For example, someone long-distance could be in charge of mass communications, informational emails, etc. There are many online choices such as candle-lighting websites, creating a Facebook page with updates, and other internet options.

Ask absent friends/family to vigil with you at a designated time once or twice daily.

They could do this from anywhere in the world, simply taking a few minutes in shared thought/prayer, listening to music, lighting a candle, etc.

Don’t worry about making practical calls immediately after s/he passes.

Spending some time in silence can be profound and meaningful. Then, consider designating one person to go do practical things while one continues to sit quietly for as long as possible.

This post was originally published by Megory Anderson at