Nolte said he felt witnessing is what gives meaning to our lives. Nolte sat with his mother during her last four days, and watched her die–helped her die, by witnessing her death. From that, Nolte learned what it meant to die. He brings this tenderness to his role of the preacher in Northfork as he tends a dying boy.
In the Summer of 2005 David Rosenthal made a documentary at the Buehler Center on Aging (Northwestern University): “Witnessing Death: A grandson’s reflections” which illuminates this theme of witnessing–how it helps not only the one being witnessed, but ourselves as well.
Shirley Gallaway has a good essay on “The Meaning of Death in Buddhism” that is both personal and grounded in Buddhist texts that is a good entry point to thinking more deeply about our relationship to death and our ability and willingness to witness.