Dear Barbara, I live with a friend who has non curative cancer. I want to learn how to embrace this as something beautiful.

We are such a death denying society your question startled me. We tend to only see the ugly through our fear filled eyes so I had to really think about my response.

How to embrace approaching death as something beautiful? Here are my thoughts:

  • The more you learn about end of life, what happens, what it looks like, the less fear you will bring to the experience and with less fear you can get glimpses of beauty. Our movie role models of how people die show us one picture of dying but when we see real death and it doesn’t look as neat and tidy as television or the movies we think something is wrong. In understanding what real dying looks like we can be more of a support person and guide.
  • The body generally does not do beautiful things as death approaches, but with the right eyes watching you can often see the beauty of the personality and spirit shine through.
  • The saying “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” holds true here. Often our Grief, our guilt, our regrets, and our fear blocks us from seeing the serenity which itself is a form of beauty.
  • Seeing a life threatening illness as a gift of time. Time to do, time to address, time to say. 
  • Be there. It won’t be what you say that really matters but being a supportive, “I’ll-talk-about-anything-or-just-sit-and-be-with-you,” kind of person that can make this a beautiful experience for both of you.

I’m not sure we can find actual beauty in dying, our Grief gets in the way of seeing actual beauty in the moment, but I think we can find serene understanding. Understanding that this particular life is ending, no matter how much we don’t want it to. Understanding that death is part of life’s cycle (we are born, we experience, and then we die). Understanding that we did the best we could to support our special person during this life challenge.

Something More About…  Embracing Another’s Death as Beautiful

To understand the dying process and what to expect, I encourage you to have GONE FROM MY SIGHT: The Dying Experience. It will be your best friend as you care for your friend during the months, weeks, days and hours before death. Make sure that you have the companion book THE ELEVENTH HOUR: A Caring Guideline for the Hours to Minutes Before Death. This booklet tells you what you can do for your friend during the final days, hours, minutes, seconds and just after death. Losing someone so dear will be difficult. Be sure to have MY FRIEND, I CARE: The Grief Experience to support you as you begin your bereavement journey.

Originally Published on

Barbara Karnes Registered Nurse

Barbara Karnes, RN Award Winning End of Life Educator, Award Winning Nurse, NHPCO Hospice Innovator Award Winner 2018 & 2015 International Humanitarian Woman of the Year

While at the bedside of hundreds of people during the dying process, Hospice Pioneer Barbara Karnes noticed that each death was following a near identical script. Each person was going through the stages of death in almost the same manner and most families came to her with similar questions. These realizations led Barbara to sit down and write Gone From My Sight, "The Little Blue Book" that changed the hospice industry.