Saying goodbye to a loved one on hospice
By Terre Mirsch
Throughout our lives we find ourselves saying goodbye under a variety of different circumstances. Euphemisms for these goodbyes—see ya’, ttyl (talk to you later), farewell, or until we meet again—often allow us to avoid the feelings associated with any sense of permanence to the experience. Some of our goodbyes are fleeting passages communicated politely when we move from one place to another, signaling the end of one conversation as we quickly move into the next. Some goodbyes occur when circumstances provide us opportunity or a new journey, like a marriage or a work promotion that requires relocation. Other times our goodbyes are a positive reflective of life’s natural transitions, as when a child leaves for college or moves away from home.
Goodbyes also occur during times of sadness or uncertainty, as in a marital separation or loss of a job. Still, other times, we leave people or places without even knowing we are leaving them- until we look back and discover that we have yet to return, that we have yet to encounter that person or place again. We feel a void that something was neglected- that words were left unsaid, or that hearts were left untouched. And, sadly, there are other times when life’s challenges force us to permanently, and regrettably, say goodbye to those that brought meaning and joy to our lives.
Goodbyes are hard and these conversations do not come naturally for most of us. But, in the face of life threatening illness, they can bring closure while creating the opportunity to express thoughts and feelings that, too often, go unsaid during the course of our daily lives. Conscious good-byes allow us to deeply and fully express our love and feelings for one another. They enable us to ‘make things right’ when relationships have drifted off course. Ira Byock, M.D., in The Four Things that Matter Most: A Book about Living, described four phrases that can help us through the unpredictability of daily life: “Please forgive me”, “I forgive you”, “Thank you”, and “I love you”.
These phrases can be guideposts for our words when faced with saying good-bye to a dying loved one. Consider the following when expressing your good-byes:
- Offer and receive words of forgiveness. Expressing one’s regrets while acknowledging others’ can be a powerful forum for healing.
- Communicate how your loved one had a positive impact on your life- why you love them, how they helped you to be a better person, or what the relationship has meant to you. Conveying words of appreciation for the difference they made in the lives of others defines one’s life purpose and legacy.
- If you are having trouble coming up with the right words, it may be helpful to first write them down. If you are unable to express your thoughts, remember that nonverbal language can often speak louder than words.
- Be honest and sincere. You don’t have to express feelings or emotions that don’t exist, or make the relationship more than it was.
- If you are able, give your loved one permission to ‘let go’ or ‘rest’. Provide reassurance that you will be okay or that they do not need to worry about you. Giving permission while sharing that you will cherish wonderful memories can be a gift for the soon departed.
Shared words of appreciation, candor, and love bring meaning and value throughout our lives. These words of gratitude can bring peace and dignity to one’s life story while also creating long lasting memories without regrets.
Share with us your experiences of saying good-bye. What was helpful to you during that time? What brought meaning and purpose to the experience for you or your loved one?