In Hinduism, there is a spiritual practice called darsan. When we dance in celebration in the temple, in the presence of the statues and images of the gods and goddesses, we make darsan. We make eye contact with them.
We believe that when we make darsan—when we behold the beloved one steadily and lovingly—we can glimpse the real deity behind the image, give it our affection and receive its affection in return. Darsan means, quite simply, “to see with reverence and devotion.”
One of the most important things we do in hospice is bear witness to our patient’s dying and death. We witness their endurance, their pain, their resiliency, sometimes their failure of courage. As we do in the temple, we do in hospice—we make darsan. We see our patients with reverence and devotion. Through steady, unfearful eyes, we glimpse the soul behind the failing body. We acknowledge the fierce, primordial struggle taking place in the hospital bed between that soul and that body. We—and sometimes we alone—observe a human life playing out its final hand.
It matters. Especially for the ones who die alone, it matters. When the tree falls in the forest, it does make a sound because we are there to hear it. We will remember them. And when we no longer remember them, their death will still matter because it has become part of the sum of who we are. We are the witnesses, the devotees in the temple of death and dying, the ones who make darsan at the close of every precious and remarkable life.
[Elizabeth Chandler Felts is a Spiritual Care Counselor with Hospice of the East Bay. She came to hospice work after 28 years in parish ministry and finds inspiration in the truths and practices of world religions.]