I was with a family the other day as they were preparing to say goodbye to their matriarch. She was in her nineties, has ten children, twice that many grandchildren, and a whole lot of great grandchildren too… all of which are struggling with saying goodbye.
In her room, it was just me, her son, and her daughter and I told them she was ready to let go, and it could be hours. I applauded them for the beautiful care they were providing her, letting them know I felt she was comfortable, without pain or distress … something I wish for all human beings at this time. I also said that despite the large family presence in the other room, it was so beautifully quiet in her room, and the lights were not too bright, and the air was fresh, and the energy was peaceful, letting them know they have really honored her well.
Her daughter asked me, “what are your thoughts on crying at the bedside?”
This was my answer:
I think we need to feel whatever we are feeling at the bedside, and tears are appropriate. I think it is okay to let them know we are sad. But I also think we should not throw ourselves uncontrollably on the bed, bawling hysterically asking them not to leave… which I have witnessed. She then told me that some of the family members were doing that and asked me to talk to them.
I went out to the living room, where twenty family members were sitting, anxiously waiting for me to come out with an update, hoping it was not what they feared. Their eyes were red, they were all crying, and I could feel such deep ache in the room. I realized at that moment, it was not for me to tell them not to cry at her bedside. I am in no position to dictate another person’s reaction to having to say goodbye to someone they have loved all of their lives. I also cannot pretend to know her or what she would want, or not want. This was not about me, and I was not going to tell them to change a thing.
So instead, I offered them things to say, such as thanking her for all of her gifts, reminding her that her legacy will continue, that they will never stop saying her name, and that they will talk about her and share her story with their kids, and their kids kids making sure no one ever forgets what an impact she had on their lives. I did suggest that they go into her room one at a time, as a lot of noise could be a bit distracting, and to let her know they would take care of one another, and I let them know that it was okay to tell her they will miss her.
One thing I have learned doing this work is that moms especially hold on for a bit until they are absolutely certain everyone will be taken care of. Moms always worry, that’s who they (we) are. And our job, is to let them know we will take care of one another and make good choices, and that despite how hard it will be, we will do our best to be okay…. even when we are not okay.
I have a lot of advice to share, and experience in this work, but when it comes to saying goodbye to someone you love, I think you need to do it in a way that brings you the most comfort. Your grief is not about me, and I do not have the history you do with the person you love and have to say goodbye too. I won't tell anyone not to cry at the bedside, or stop them from throwing themselves on the person in the bed... but I will remind everyone that we all do this differently, and that is okay.
When my mom died, I stood ten feet away from the bed. My sisters were crying and my brother crawled into her bed next to her. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know what to say. I was crying inside, too afraid to let anyone see the struggle I was having internally. The truth is, in many ways... I wish I had sat at her bedside, and cried the tears I was feeling, letting her know I really, really wish she didn't go. I wanted more time... I just didn't know how to say it.
Feel what you need to feel...