The last goodbye
Updated: Feb 15
I was sitting with a wife, two daughters and a son of a patient who was dying. It is at this time that I have the conversation about what to say to someone before they die. I have this conversation often, and while the information I give is usually the same, the reactions and the responses from families vary. “Your husband needs to know that you will be okay”, I said. I have said this more times than I can count. It made sense to me. But this time was different; his wife said to me “but I am not going to be okay”. And at that moment, I came to the realization that I need to think about what I say, and what is truly appropriate for each situation. How the heck do I know what he needs from her, his wife of 60 years, and who am I to say she will be okay. Of course she will not be okay. I would not be okay. I looked at her and I looked into her eyes and I could see how scared she was, how sad she was and I knew, she doesn’t want to do this, she does not want to know how to say goodbye to her husband, whom she still loves very much and more than anything, wants more time with.
We spent some time talking about him, the kind of man he has been all of their lives and what they think he would want. I asked if it would be more appropriate to let him know they will take care of their mother. They agreed that was exactly what he needed reassurance for; he would want to know that after he was gone, they would all make sure she was taken care of. We talked about one of the things people always seem to say; “he will be in a better place” and how on many levels, that is just absurd. A better place, at least in their eyes, was there, with them and him no longer ill or in pain. I gave great thought to that as well.
After I left them that day, I really thought about the last goodbye, the last words, and things I would want to know and hear. It reminded me of a class I took with Shaman Linda Fitch; it was about crossing over and we did a “Sacred Deathbed” exercise. She asked if I would like to volunteer for the first one, and then everyone would pair up and do it in groups. I had no idea what was going to happen, but who says "no" to the Shaman, right? I waited downstairs while the class of 9 people prepared for what ended up being my death.
When I walked into the room, I was no longer with my classmates, instead they were all representing my children, my friends and someone from my past who would be the one to take my hand as I crossed over. This exercise was more powerful than I ever could have imagined and it has stayed very present within me ever since. At my deathbed, my children said goodbye. They cried as they asked me not to leave, and I could feel their pain as they said goodbye to me. Saying goodbye to them was so permanent, I think that is the best word to describe it, because that kind of goodbye, the one at the deathbed, is forever. I died that day and my soul rose above the room and watched as the people I love grieved, as they read the Eulogy I wrote, and as they said their final goodbye to me.
Several things came out of that exercise for me; most importantly is that I am not ready to go quite yet and that my love for my children, my family and my friends is a deep, beautiful love and I am grateful. I also realized that while I wish I could have done some things differently in my lifetime, I do not have regrets, I do not have a need for a “do-over” and I don’t feel there are words I could have, or should have said to someone. I felt very at peace with my life and the path I was on. I realized that at my deathbed, there would be no need for apologies or forgiveness and that gave me a sense of relief.
This got me thinking about how so many times, humans wait for the beside to say the things they could have or should have said earlier. What if we didn’t? What if we didn’t hold grudges, what if we let things go, what if we said the kind words, the reassuring words, and the supportive and loving words so much when we felt them, that at the deathbed… you already knew. And the only thing that really needs to be said is “I will miss you”.
So the other day, I was with another family just before their mother/wife took her last breaths. They asked me what they should say. I told them to tell her thank you for the wonderful gifts she gave them during their time together, and let her know how much she will be missed. I walked out of the room to give them time to say goodbye and I heard their lovely words. The last things she heard, besides the beautiful music playing in the background, was “thank you” and “we will miss you”.
Don’t wait for the bedside to say the things… don’t hold grudges, or hang onto anger. Instead, embrace your life right now, and all the people you have in it. Make moments and memories and love fiercely. xo