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But death was sweet, death was gentle, death was kind; death healed the bruised spirit and the broken heart, and gave them rest and forgetfulness.  – Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth

When is Death Sweet? COVID-19 Reflections from a Grief Support Counselor

Two women recently described their experience of the death of a loved one as “sweet.”  What made this loss seem sweet, I wondered? Did they mean “dear,” like a treasured moment? Or was it a sense of the mystery or grace present as they witnessed their loved one leaving this world?

Part of my work as a grief support counselor is that I get to have conversations with people within days of the death of their loved one.  Often their words resonate in such a way that they end up being a comfort to me.  Or a challenge.

So both women used the word sweet. I can imagine that the sweetness of death was the release from pain and suffering. The sweetness came from the surrender. Wait, isn’t that a song? Sweet Surrender. A quick google search and I found a handful of artists with songs with that title. In the songs, the artists are mostly talking about surrender to love. But death?  Can death be a sweet surrender?

We will all take a last breath, whether we are ready or not. With COVID-19, it may be that death is sudden and unexpected. People are more likely to be alone facing death, separate from their loved ones. So with all the uncertainties and unknowns, how can facing death, our own or that of a loved one, have a sweetness?

The two women I spoke to found sweetness in the act of caring for their loved one. They each described holding their person in their arms for that last breath. There was a comfort in knowing suffering from debilitating disease was over. There was a comfort in being absolutely present until that last dying breath.  Being so present was an act of love that took courage.  And as one woman put it “Love can make it possible to do amazing things.”

Susana Calley, LCSW