When we sit with a dying person, we gain two critical insights into what it means to "be alone together." First, we realize that we must abandon the arrogance that often distorts our relationships--the arrogance of beleiving that we have the answer to the other person's problem. When we sit with a dying person, we understand that what is before us is not a "problem to be solved" but a mystery to be honored. As we find a way to stand respectfully on the edge of that mystery, we start to see that all of our relationships would be deepened if we could play the fixer role less frequently.
Second, when we sit with a dying person, we realize that we must overcome the fear that often distorts our relationships--the fear that causes us to turn away when the other reveals something too vexing, painful, or ugly to bear. Death may be all of this and more. And yet we hold the dying person in our gaze, our hearts, our prayers, knowing that it would be disrespectful to avert our eyes, that the only gift we have to offer in this moment is our undivided attention.
When people sit with a dying person, they know that they are doing more than taking up space in the room. But if you ask them to describe what that "more" is, they have a hard time finding the right words. And when the words come, they are almost always some variant on "I was simply being present."
We learn to "practice presence" when we sit with a dying person--to treat the space between us as sacred, to honor the soul and its destiny. Our honoring may be wordless or perhaps mediated by speech that the dying person cannot hear. Yet this honoring somehow keeps us connected as we bear witness to another's journey into the ultimate solitude.