I was sitting with a husband who was about to say his last goodbye to a woman he has loved for forty years. He told me, "she is the most beautiful woman in the world," and I knew without any doubt, he felt that way from the moment he met her. I cannot help but imagine what that must feel like, to be loved by someone that much, to be thought of that way, and cared for as well as he did her.
They had a few children between them, some from their marriage, some from previous marriages... but none of them were there. I asked when they were coming, learning that they lived nearby. He said he would call them when it was time, that they were busy and he didn't want to bother them.
This is the moment when I am straight up, totally honest and say what I think the family needs to hear, which is, "it's time." So I sat with him as he texted the message to the family to let them know. He is an engineer by trade, so his message was very specific, listing details, which is when I suggested he write something a little more personal, like "hey guys, mom is getting close and I know she would love to have you near." Which seemed a little out of his wheelhouse, but he sent it anyway.
While I was there, the family arrived one at a time, each asking for details, in which I said the typical thing we all say, which is... "it could be hours or it could be days." And they then asked... "what do YOU think?" I said, "I think she is very close, maybe a few hours, maybe less."
I always think that it is better that I encourage them to come sooner rather than later, because waiting around for hours, and even days for those last breaths is better than not being given one more chance at the bedside.
My philosophy is this, imagine today is the last day... say all the things, hand over some beautiful take-aways to the person you are saying goodbye to, reminding them how deeply loved they are, perhaps sharing some favorite memories... and if you have tomorrow, that is a "bonus day." Think about the take away for them and for you...
One of my favorite quotes... "My memories say hello, they ask about you all the time." Which always pops in my head at these moments... how can I help to change their last memory of this moment, how can I make it just a little softer?
She passed about two hours after I left, the entire family was there and she heard all the things from each one of them. I called her husband today, to check in and to let him know what an honor it was to care for his wife. I told him how truly blessed she was to know that someone thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world, and loved her as deeply as he did. He said, "it is all true, I meant every word." And the last thing he said to me was, "thank you for having me get the kids here."
My advice... if given the opportunity to get someone to the bedside prior to those last breaths, even if it is hours or days before... do it. Having the chance to hear, "I love you" and "goodbye" is important for the person saying it, and the one who is hearing it.