'It's Not Like in the Films': Bereaved People's Experiences of the Deathbed Vigil

Omega (Westport). 2022 Oct 14:302228221133413. doi: 10.1177/00302228221133413. Online ahead of print.


This paper explores how people enact and experience the deathbed vigil when someone close to them is dying. It draws on qualitative interviews with 34 bereaved people carried out as part of a wider study exploring public perceptions of death and dying. Participants were aware of the expectation that they would attend the deathbed and did their best to do so. Findings are reported using four themes: gathering, enacting the deathbed vigil, experiencing the deathbed vigil and moment of death. Participants' experiences varied. Some families kept vigil as a group, while others established a shift system or waited alone. Activities at the bedside included reading to the dying person, talking amongst themselves, sharing memories, saying goodbye. The covid-19 pandemic highlighted families' wish to accompany their dying relatives.

Keywords: deathbed; dying; family; moment of death; vigil.