What is a vigil?
July 12th, 2020
Traditionally, a vigil is staying awake during times that you’re usually asleep. In terms of death, I think it really means being present to somebody continuously during a hard time, like you’re keeping a vigil by your son’s bedside while he’s sick. You’re not going to leave. All of your attention is going to be focused on this person—you’re vigilant. It’s not necessarily nursing or giving physical care (although it can include that), but more about bearing witness and staying present. It takes a lot of emotional energy. It’s so important to be really present all the time with somebody, especially when they’re suffering, and just letting that be.
July 14th, 2020
In many ways this word is very Christian for me, so I often think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he asked all his friends, stay awake with me. This is his last night and they all just kept falling asleep, and he kept waking them up, and they kept falling asleep. Vigil requires us to really drop into this place where we're not just falling into our distractions.
It's a real intentionality of serving another, so we have to truly arrive in this place of wakefulness to be receptive and be in loving connection with that person. It's their last moments, their last breaths and it's amazing because often we don't appreciate that we only have a certain amount of breaths we take in a life. What I've experienced in my work is getting to show up for that, in vigil, you really appreciate- like, wow, that inhalation, that exhalation, that movement of their hand. It's about widening out into the preciousness of life.
July 14th, 2020
The word comes from vigilare, a Latin word for keep awake. A vigil is simply being at the bedside with someone so they are not alone when they die. It's really assuring someone they will be kept company, and any fears that come up, there's someone there to comfort and soothe them.
Sitting vigil is not doing anything other than bearing witness to what's happening to the person in the bed and being able to, possibly where it's appropriate, place your hand on their hand or stroke their hair if there are any movements of agitation or slight discomfort. It's just really keeping watch and bearing witness, a safekeeping.