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Say it now: With a loved one in hospice, don’t wait to share your feelings

by Ron King

Last night I watched “The Buddy Holly Story” at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. In the second act, we saw the exuberant joy of youth, passion of extreme fun, hope and fantastic music. No one on that stage in 1959 realized that in just a few hours three of the most talented and creative young musicians would die in a plane crash. From the audience I wanted to stand up and shout, “Don’t get on that plane!” We watched the replay of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (Big Bopper) singing their last song and sharing their last words on stage. They had no clue of what was to come so quickly and tragically. None of them had the opportunity to say goodbye to those they loved the most.

Receiving hospice care means you do have that opportunity. Hospice patients don’t know if they have a few hours, days, weeks or months to say what needs to be said, but we know the time is short. Saying things too often left unspoken or rarely put into words. Speaking while we have the time, voice and life to do so is a top priority in planning the hospice journey.

Though each of us will have unique stories to tell and messages to share, the most important things most of us need to share at the end of life are “Thank you”; “I love you”; “Please forgive me”; and “Good-bye.” These universal statements can move us along the pathway to reconcile and complete our significant relationships.

The gratitude statement is most convincing when specifics gifts can be named. Remember and share the times and places your loved one has added to your life by making it easier, more enjoyable or meaningful. Let them know the difference their words, presence, support, work or gifts have made. What have you been able to do and what have you become because of their part in your world?

You may have heard of the man who when asked by his wife if he really loved her after 50 years of marriage. “Of course I do. I told you so on the day we married and if I change my mind, I’ll let you know.” Some of us need to hear those three words more often. When you say it, be sure to speak the language of your loved one. There is a way of saying “I love you” that means the most to each of us. It might be words, actions, music, a gift, letter, touch or prayer. The words are simple. They can make a place of rest as time presses you toward the day when these words can no longer be shared.

The forgiveness statement is difficult because it touches painful memories and regrets. But it also raises the hope of full restoration and confidence. Acknowledging the need to be forgiven naturally brings the opportunity to forgive others as well. Offering forgiveness to another, however, can suggest wrongdoing on their part. So it may be best to simply state that no resentments remain, that you understand life is too short to hold a grudge. No one needs to leave with a chip on their shoulder or leave a chip on the shoulder of others.

“Good-bye” is a hope for shared blessing. A “bye” can be “good” when it includes our best intentions and fond memories. That doesn’t take away the pain, but it can help us feel complete, finished when the time arrives. We don’t need to wait till the final days to say good-bye. It can be said in stages with ever deepening wishes and meaning.

Hospice is designed to provide the support for you to say what needs to be said. The important thing is to say these things now, while there is yet time.

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