The Vigil

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Sitting with a dying, elderly parent can be a deeply emotional, challenging and impenetrable experience. It's natural and inevitable, yet we don't know what to expect, how long it might take, or what it will look and feel like when it happens. You just have to sit and wait and watch. There's no instruction booklet and every hour can be a surprise.

This programme was inspired by presenter Julia Eisner's vigil at her mother's bedside.

"I sat with my sisters for two and a half days. Actually we didn't sit, after the first hour, we made a cup of tea, we made phone calls, but what else were we supposed to do? My mother was unconscious and we'd been told she was going to die. We didn't know if we were allowed to go home for the night, or go out for lunch. We were worried about missing it, but what was 'it'?"

This is not something people talk about much.

But in this programme, people talk frankly about that taboo subject - describing their own experiences of watching an elderly parent die and how it feels hour after hour, day after day.

Interviewees include composer Sally Beamish, who composed a piece of music which sustained her during that time, and artist George Shaw, who drew his father during his death.

This is a moving programme about the search to find meaning during that final vigil, when even the mundane can become transformed into something beautiful.

Producer: Elizabeth Burke
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.
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