The last week of my father’s fading breath was one of the hardest in my life. There he lay, on a hospital bed, battling the end stages of renal failure. My siblings and I took turns staying by his bedside. We held his hand, sang his favorite songs, and rubbed his feet. We held hands in a sacred circle around him and told him how much he meant to us. We then reassured him that we’d take care of each other, so he could leave in peace to join our mother.
The last goodbye is the most painful one. Letting go is so hard. And yet, if you reflect back on your life, letting go is the single constant theme.
A baby has to let go of crawling in order to stand up and walk. A teenager has to let go of the safety and familiarity of home to discover himself. A parent has to let go, so the child she raised can strike out on her own. And all of us have to let go of the people we dearly love so they can leave in peace when it is time for that final breath.
How can you say that last goodbye in a way that you and the one you love, the person who’s leaving, feel complete?
- If your loved one is coherent and able to talk, reflect together on stories of good times and shared funny moments. Laugh and cry over precious memories.
- Talk about the end of life, The Other Side, and the fears and anxieties that come up. If this feels uncomfortable, request a hospice chaplain to facilitate the session.
- Speak your truth and thank them for being in your life. Say all that you need to, so there are no regrets. Tell the person how much you love and appreciate them and how they brought joy and meaning into your life.
- Bring fresh flowers, a piece of inspirational reading, old photographs, a favorite shawl, anything that’s special to your loved one. But never forget that the gift of your presence is the greatest gift of all. Just showing up and being willing to stay with them tells them volumes.
- The dying still feel you and hear you. So, choose a soothing lavender lotion (or a preferred fragrance) and gently massage their hands and feet. What cannot be communicated with words is often done through touch in the last days. Stroke their hair. Sing to them. Tell stories. Tell them what a beautiful sunny day it is, how the flowers in the garden look and smell, what sounds of nature you hear. Remember, hearing is the last sense to go.
- Express forgiveness for something you haven’t closed. Or seek forgiveness if you need to. Remember, difficult people bring the hardest lessons for us to learn. So if there are any unresolved storylines, this is the time to mend fences. Even if your loved one is unable to respond, they hear you and feel your energy.
- Sometimes your loved one will hold on because they don’t want you to be left alone to grieve. Tell them it’s okay to leave, that as much as you’ll miss them, you and the other family members will take care of each other. Tell them you know their spirit will continue to love you, and that they will always be a part of your life.
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