There are two kinds of goodbyes, the kind where you expect to see each other again, and the kind where you know you never will. The difference between the two, is that the first one is not predictable. With that goodbye, we always assume we will see them again, and when we say goodbye, it is usually casual. If we knew it would be the last time we saw each other, I think we would say the goodbye with more intention. One of the things people regret most when someone dies is the last words they said or didn’t say.
I took a moment today to think about all the people I love and have had to say goodbye to. Some I was there for their last breath, some I knew it was coming and made sure to let them know how deep my love was for them, and many I never had the chance, and those are the ones I struggle with most of all.
When my brother died, I was at his bedside for many days, saying everything I had not said in the years prior. I apologized, and I asked for and offered forgiveness. The afternoon before he died, and before I left for the day, I whispered in his ear, “I hope to see you tomorrow, but if I don’t, I love you… goodbye.” I am so thankful I said that to him. Sad of course, but thankful. When I walked out the door of his hospital room, I assumed I would see him the next day.
Those last words I said to him, have been comfort for my sad heart.
When my sister died, I didn't get to say goodbye, but I repeatedly told her how much I love her, so I know in my heart that is what she took with her, and that comforts me.
I found out a friend died recently, someone I knew was dying, but held out hope that he wouldn’t, and I never said goodbye. I didn’t say the words I always encourage others to say. I didn’t tell him how happy I was that we reconnected, and what it meant to me that he confided in me everything he was feeling after his diagnoses. I never told him how much the last few months meant to me.
Shortly after my brother died, I had a woman who was sitting at her brother’s bedside, ask me “how do I say goodbye to my brother?” I knew the answer to that, I wish I didn’t, but I did, and I was able to help her do it, much like I did, because I knew that would aid in her grief. I am using my grief, my personal losses, and my lessons from it all, to help guide and support others. This helps them, but it also helps me... because I know that I will never stop grieving, and I know I need to continue to honor each of them, and this is how I do it.
The last words we say to someone, in any circumstance, will stay with us forever. Knowing we said them, and knowing they heard them, makes all the difference in how we move through our grief. It's the words we say before we have to say goodbye that are most important, at least for me. I want to make sure I say them often. If only I knew then what I know now... so many more words I would have said.
I have heard many people say, "I never got to say goodbye." I have had to say it as well. Not having that opportunity, makes the grief process harder. This is when ritual and ceremony is such an important part of what I offer to grievers, allowing them a chance to honor the person they love, to say last words, or even send a message after they have died.
How do we say goodbye? I have put into practice with every goodbye that I say, especially when I assume I will see them again, to add words that let them know how much I love or appreciate them, or how thankful I am that they gifted me their time.
And for the final goodbyes, said or unsaid, I take in a deep breath, hold it for a moment, place my hand on my heart, and when I release that breath... I say, "goodbye." And I believe with every ounce of my being that my message has been received, and that they know that I am thankful to have shared time with them in my life.
And the best way to honor someone who has died, is to never stop saying their name, to tell their story, and to keep their legacy alive. They are gone, but they will never be forgotten...