The Hummingbird and the Dragonfly

I have always been attracted to hummingbirds and dragonflies. Someone once told me that if you see a hummingbird soon after someone has died, it means they have successfully made it to the other side. I have also been told that dragonflies only live 24 hours and their one very important job is to carry souls to heaven. I think we all need a little something like this to believe, regardless if others agree or not.  I find comfort in knowing that if I see a hummingbird; it means someone has crossed over with ease, and as a hospice nurse I need to know that, I need to believe that. I need closure for the deaths that I am witness to. The hummingbird is my witness and the dragonfly is their guide. This works for me.

“In mythology, the Greek underworld is an otherworld where souls go after death. The original Greek idea of afterlife is that, at the moment of death, the soul is separated from the corpse, taking on the shape of the former person, and is transported to the entrance of the underworld.”

I was talking to a woman recently who was sharing with me how her last hours would be. She said just before she takes her last breaths, all the people she lost over the years would gather together around her bed and when it was time, they would guide her to heaven. She said that while it might sound silly, they would all have wings, like angels but they would be different colors, like the rainbow. She said she had a dream when she was a little girl that this was how she would die and she has carried it with her all of these years. She told me that when she sees a rainbow, she believes it is the reflection of angel wings and someone is being guided. This brings her comfort.

I have learned that we all have something we believe in, and sometimes people have a very strong opinion about that. I have also learned that it is not for me, or for you to judge, simply because we feel differently or don’t agree. Faith is a very good example of that. I am not particularly religious and I do not practice anything very intently, however my work has invited me in to witness others who do and their commitment inspires me. Especially at the end of life, most people hold tightly to their beliefs, which in turn, provides comfort.  

I have been at many bedsides with someone who has shared with me the people they see in their room, or outside walking by. Not anyone that you or I could see, but I believe they see someone and most times there is no fear. People try to convince them they are imagining it, or worry that they’ve lost their minds and have gone completely “crazy”. But what if, at the end of life someone does come, a friend or loved one who has passed or even a complete stranger who was assigned to take your hand and let you know that when you do take your last breath, wherever you believe you are going, you will not go alone. Why can’t we allow their comfort to comfort us? Why do we fight their visions so strongly?

I had the daughter of a patient tell me once that the first time her mom was on hospice, and she was very sick, she saw three little girls playing together on the floor. They laughed, they giggled and they filled the room with this incredible playful energy that her mom derived so much joy from. According to her, they didn’t have faces, but she recognized their voices and knew they were the ages of 4, 5, and 6. She started to get better and for about a year, was able to come off hospice and live a healthy life. During that time, the little girls left and stopped playing in her room. About a year later, she became ill again and came under our care. I spent a lot of time with her and she shared with me that the little girls were back, only now they were 7, 8 and 9. In a year they aged 3 years. Again, she didn’t see their faces but the voices were the same. This time, they told her they wouldn’t leave until she was ready to go.  Just before she died, her daughter said she held out her hands and smiled, and she believes the little girls took her hands and went to heaven with her. That brought her comfort.

At the end of life, terminal delirium is a common experience; we see people staring up at the ceiling, at the walls, moving their hands as though they are reaching for someone or something and sometimes even talking, possibly even having full conversations. I see the fear and concern from those at the bedside, but I have become quite friendly with the visions others see and in many ways I too feel the comfort. My advice is not to question, not to argue, but to embrace the comfort your loved one feels. I can’t help but believe they feel a sense of safety knowing someone is there to guide them.

Dying is scary, it is incredibly hard work and there is so much unknown, that no one can ever be truly prepared and ready for the journey they are about to embark on. And while I don’t have actual proof that myths and visions are real, I have witnessed the comfort and safety people experience simply by believing. I can’t argue with someone who says that seeing a hummingbird is amazing simply because of the speed their wings flap, or because of the beauty and vibrancy of their colors… and maybe a dragonfly is just beautiful, delicate and fragile.  But for me, I need to believe that souls are crossing over with ease and being guided by gentle, yet speedy wings and most of all that someone out there is going to reach out for me when it is my time to go, take my hand and let me know that I am not alone, and I am safe. I am counting on my hummingbird and my dragonfly.