Emma, over last winter, I spent 3 or 4 months going to chemo etc appts and finally, visiting in hospital, advocating for at hosp meetings and visiting in hospice, the sister of a longtime friend.
When she died, I was the only person with her. She was awake and we looked at each other from about a foot away for some time — and I couldn’t tell exactly when she died.
It happened that a close friend of both mine and this woman’s sister’s was a volunteer there. She made it her business to be there as Brenda got worse, and encouraged me to continue talking to her — she said that often people who appear not to be responsive are in fact conscious, and boy was she right. I smiled, told Brenda that she was doing great (she’d been worried that she’d do it wrong) and to just relax. I told her this a few times over a minute or so.And she did, right away… and then she was gone.
It may be that this isn’t the right time for you to be volunteering there. I think there are some things you can help with that don’t involve direct contact with the people dying? Have you heard of the Death Cafe? If not, please google it — I LOVE it. For example, some of the people who attend are terminally ill and have no one in their families who are willing to talk about it — you’d be perfect taking part in that.
You’re doing the exactly RIGHT THING — you’re pursuing your own thinking on this, and thinking of helping others do the same. And you’ll get there ;)