(Facing the impending loss of someone you can’t live without!)
I have spent nearly a decade trying to help people get some sense of completion, resolution, and closure around the deathbed. It has been my mission to comfort and educate people about the process because I truly believe that if we can be more at ease with death and dying then we will be more fully engaged with life and living. And yet, there are people I meet time and again who tell me “I don’t want to say goodbye”, “I can’t say goodbye”, or “I don’t even know how to say goodbye”. They are witnessing the last days of their loved one’s life and just can’t reconcile the impending loss.
Somehow saying goodbye to them means they are OK with death, they have given up, and there is no more fight. “If I say goodbye that makes it real and that makes it OK; and I don’t want it to be either!” “If I try to say goodbye I’m going to lose it, I’m going to start crying and never stop.”
These are things I hear during the dying process and all of them are OK. Every death is unique and every reaction is unique and OK. We are all doing the best we can with what we have and where we are. Saying goodbye, or giving permission is something that hospice workers often encourage family members to do to help the dying person attain more emotional or psychological comfort with their own death. I have seen it help numerous times, and yet there are times when family members simply can’t bring themselves to utter those words. Today I want to say that it’s OK if you can’t say goodbye. You don’t have to say goodbye. You shouldn’t go against something deep in your heart simply to appease a well-meaning end of life worker. Trust your instincts and guts and continue to do your best with where you are.
Saying goodbye for most is final at the deathbed. We won’t see that person again exactly as they are or have been. Regardless of religious or spiritual beliefs there is a finality to this physical experience and considering “losing” that relationship is simply too overwhelming for most of us to grasp or to handle therapeutically.
So please, do what you can to speak your own truth. Maybe that’s out loud or maybe it’s on paper. Maybe you will say “I don’t want to say goodbye to you” or maybe you will just sit and hold their hand.
Eventually the time may come when you can and will say something more. There is support available to you even if your loved one is already gone.
However you choose to navigate this time, know that you truly are doing the best you can in every moment. Be gentle and honest with yourself. You don’t have to say goodbye, being real is enough!
“It’s the emptiest and yet the fullest of all human messages: ‘Good-bye.”
~ Kurt Vonnegut