There is a lot of overlap in the various work that I do and I would like to share with you one such overlap.
It involves my work as a Compassionate Touch and Cuddle Therapist and as an End of life Doula and relates to intimacy at the end of life.
The professionals and care teams supporting people at the end of life can often overlook this concern, not through a neglect of duty, but mainly due to their need to focus on symptom management and couples can be reluctant to raise the issue.
As a person’s health changes so do the dynamics of intimacy.
Changes in body image, the control of bodily functions, pain, nausea, catheters, a lack of sexual desire or even just the sheer volume of people coming and going etc can all play a part in navigating intimacy at the end of life.
Whether this is as a result of medication, disease or aging the need or wish for intimacy for both partners can remain strong. Closeness is an inherent human need and this does not change as the end of life draws near.
There are so many ways to experience tender, loving, intimate touch at the end of life – stroking, spooning, kissing, massaging, eye-gazing, cradling and laying heads close together. Couples can lay naked together too if the setting allows – skin to skin contact is a powerful antidote to stresses, anxiety and pain at the end of life.
If the person is not a partner but, perhaps, a parent, sibling, grandparent, close friend or child and you have a trusting, caring relationship with them then this closeness, this intimacy is equally as important with the only difference being you would be clothed laying with the person dying.
For some, this way of interacting intimately comes naturally.
Others may be afraid of touching or unsure of how to touch their loved one at the end of life. Perhaps worried about causing pain or discomfort. Perhaps worried of what others may think.
With reassurance and gentle compassion loving, intimacy at the end of life can bring such huge comfort both to the person dying and their loved one and create beautiful memories.
I hope this thought provoking piece provides you with a starting place for discussion about intimacy at the end of life.