My Blog

The Vigil

1.20.2010 | Motivation, My Blog, The Delta Hospice

Jan 20, 2009

A lot of people ask me what a Vigil is, and what it’s like, so I thought I’d take a moment to chat about it…

I sit on the Delta Hospice Vigil Team – the team consists of volunteers who go in and provide companionship for a person who is in their last 72 hours of life. Sometimes we are called when there is no family available to sit with the individual, and sometimes we are called when the family is there, but maybe needs a bit of a break. We sit in 3-hour shifts, and can be asked to be there on a 24-hour basis, or simply overnight.

Some people wonder why I volunteered for this particular position, seeing it as somewhat macabre, dark or negative. On the contrary, I chose to volunteer for the Vigil Team because I see it as exactly the opposite of macabre, dark and negative. Unless you actually do a vigil, it is very hard to understand one, and even if you do a vigil, it is very hard to describe. I’ll try my best, though…

As everyone lives their lives differently, so they pass on differently, as well. I am not a religious person by any means, but that is of little consequence when I have been given the honour of sitting with someone in their final hours. Something changes in me when I go into that room and see the person I am to be with for the next three hours – I do not bring a book, or a magazine, or any outstanding work that I need to get done, I simply go in and sit. I do not do things like feel a person’s pulse. That’s not why I am there. I am there to make sure that this person is not alone when they leave this earth.

I introduce myself and explain why I am sitting with them, and what they can expect from me. I sit down, take the person’s hand, or place my hand on their arm, and sometimes I may just start talking to them. I look around and take in the photos and personal items adorning the room, and use them as a starting point to begin my conversation. Maybe if there is a book available, I will read it aloud. If there is a magazine, I will leaf through it and describe some of the photographs within it. If there is a stereo, I’ll play some music. If there is a Bible, a Qur’an, some Buddhist readings, or any other religious literature, I may read it aloud, no matter what my own personal beliefs may be. I’m here for that person, and I am going to respect and honour who they are and who they were. But for the most part, I spend a good deal of my time with the person just sitting quietly, maybe not saying much at all.

The person I am sitting with is, more often than not, non-responsive, but that never stops me from interacting with them as best I can. The most important thing that I learned about doing a vigil is this: hearing is the last of the senses to leave us. The non-responsive person can hear me, and so I make sure to always keep that in mind as I am talking with them, with another person, or if I am simply moving about the room.

It is an honour to sit with a person who is dying – it is an incredible thing to bear witness to as someone’s physical story draws to a close. You know that their history will live on, and that their body is simply ceasing to function, and so when the time comes when they do pass into that next world in which they believe in, it is an immensely spiritual, honest moment.

Sitting on the Vigil Team has changed my perspective not only of death, but of life, as well. I have seen incredibly touching moments when sons say goodbye to fathers, and wives tell their husbands that everything will be just fine, and when brothers hold their sister’s hand one last time. I have been in the room at the exact moment when a person makes the decision to let go; be it a family member, friend, or the dying person themselves. There is no greater honour.

It is my privilege to serve people in this way, and I take to heart my responsibilities as a Vigil Volunteer. It is an intensely personal, immaculately open, and truly important part of my life to sit with someone as their life draws to its final close.

And I appreciate the Delta Hospice for allowing me this incredible opportunity.




ok seriously. You have to stop making me cry at work.

You have a way with words… and an amazing heart.


What a wonderful post. You were introduced in OSY's yoga class, and then I found this blog via Hospice's FB page.

Thank you for writing this (and your other posts are wonderful too). I shall live vicariously through you over the next year!

I am...

Thank you so much for your kind words – they really do mean a lot to me.

Happy to be able to share the OSY space with you, Anonymous! 🙂

Lindy Lou

I've sat with a dying loved one and it was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. To live a good life is easy enough, but not many people think about how to die a good death. Death has become clinical and hidden – something that happens in the hospital. You barely see it and you most certainly don't touch it. But in hospice, people can be loved and remain human all the way to the end. They can die as they lived, be surrounded by warmth and love. Believe me, letting go of a dying loved one is hard, but letting go of them when you and they are comfortable and not surrounded by a sterile, clinical environment makes it somehow, easier.
I hope to tour the hospice next week 🙂 Its a beautiful thing that there are vigil volunteers.

[…] spoke about my being on the Delta Hospice Vigil Team, and what it’s like to sit with someone as their body prepares itself to leave this current […]