I Will Say Farewell, Good Man
Working in end-of-life care has me questioning my own mortality often. I can’t help but ask myself how much time I have left, or if I have lived my life well, and what will my legacy be? I take pause, almost daily, and think about the people in my life; the ones I’ve already said goodbye to, the ones who I feel fierce love for now, and the ones I have yet to meet. I feel blessed all of the time, not so much for what I “have”, but for the life I have had, the lessons I have learned and despite the obstacles (of which there have been a few), the many joys I have felt in this over-sized heart of mine. And while I cannot be certain how much time I might have left, I feel a sense of anticipation for so much more to come, and this excites me.
But what if it doesn’t, what if my time is cut short and right now, today, and everything that led up to this day, is all that I will ever have? Is that enough? Did I live my life well? And what does that actually mean, to live your life well? I think it means fully appreciating it all; the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful…. the entirety and accumulation of your whole life. It doesn’t mean it was all rosy and perfect, and at least for me, it isn’t about wealth or things. I think it is about gratitude and grace.
Another question I ask myself often, is “am I being the best version of myself?” Do you ever ask yourself that? And if you do, or if you are only asking yourself this question now as you read my words, what is your answer? If this is all I will ever have, I feel peace in my heart that despite it all, I have lived my life well and I am being the very best version of myself. Keep in mind that I am acknowledging daily that there is always room for growth, and I welcome that.
I met a man recently who had made it to one hundred and one years of life, and his deteriorating condition was threatening to take away his very last bit of independence. With his clear mind, he already felt tortured by his nearly blind and immobile state, and he anticipated further weakening and debilitation, which would be unbearable for him to endure. He chose to exercise his right to take the End-of-Life Option Act (EOLOA) medications and end his life with dignity and on his terms. This is a man who lived his life well and certainly from my perspective, but clearly from those who love him, he lived an exceptional life. It was an honor for me to meet him.
Prior to taking these medications, he spoke with his family and shared his wishes. As you can imagine, this was not easy for them, but they love and respect him so much, they accepted his choice and didn't pass judgement. This does not mean that some of them didn’t struggle with it, but they gathered around him, like the beautiful family they are, and let him know they supported him completely and would not let him do this alone.
He also wrote a letter to his friends, of which there are many, saying his goodbye. He thanked them for their friendship, for all of the memories and for the part they played in making his life, a good life. He was honest about his choice, not asking for their approval, and not needing it either, but simply to share his truth with them, that he had lived his life well, he has had an exceptional life, and he simply wanted to say thank you, and goodbye.
I was sitting with him at the kitchen table, the day before he took the medications. He took a phone call from a friend. It was hard not to listen in, the call was on speaker phone and I was only a few feet away. In many ways I felt as though it was intended for me to hear, not by his intention necessarily, perhaps just the magical way the universe works… because every word spoken, both from him and his friend, resonated deeply, and it increased my desire to move forward with an even more intense motivation to live the rest of my life fully and with appreciation for it all.
At the end of the conversation, he said to his friend, “I will say farewell, good man” and he hung up the phone. I felt a tear fall down my cheek in the slowest of motion and I thought to myself… this is a man who loved his life, his family, and his friends fiercely. I knew that all who loved him were going to miss him.
His honesty with his family and friends about his decision, touched me, but so did the profound awareness he had in his last hours, of the true depth of love felt by everyone in his life. I think there might have been some uncertainty for him all these years, and the outpouring of love in response to his letter, allowed him to see himself in a brighter light. He was a humble man that seemed to doubt the compliments handed him, and perhaps it was those last few days that offered him the chance to finally believe it to be true.
The day he took his medications, he was asked moments before, what has meant most to him in his life of one hundred and one years. He answered the question, something like this… “I have lived my life well and what has mattered most was the love I have felt for family and friends.” The room went silent, all knowing they were each a part of what filled his heart to the rim. I looked around at this beautiful family who were about to say goodbye to someone they had loved all of their lives; each of them silently clinging tightly to the years-worth of special moments they were remembering, of times well spent, and lessons learned. I was witnessing deep love, a moment I shall hold in my heart forever.
Having the chance to say goodbye to him, to thank him, and to express their love and gratitude was a blessing, one which I am sure comforts them. It is also another reminder for me to be sure to take advantage of those moments to say the things to my family and to my friends now, so they always know how deeply loved they are.
I will say farewell, good man… you lived your life well and you will leave behind hearts that feel incredibly full, and a legacy that raises the bar.