If you are fortunate, you’ve had many conversations with your loved one.
If they’re your parent, your conversations probably started before you could speak. You heard their voice, their lyrical baby talk, their lullabyes sung in the dark of night as you were held tight.
Your conversations changed over the years–from childhood discipline, “Don’t ride your bike without your helmut,” to the pre-teen birds and bees mubo-jumbo they could barely get out, and your talks became more about schools, jobs, marriage, and kids of your own.
You’ve banked a lot of hours. Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and The Eighth Habit calls this making deposits into your emotional bank account. Every time we say an encouraging word, offer much needed advice, pass on a family story about crazy Aunt Jo adds to our collective memories.
Our family conversations are woven into who we are and the choices we make. This investment of time, talk, listening, encouraging, and even admonishing cement our love and commitment. And when we need something from this person–to speak wisdom into their life, to ask for care, attention, or respect–we can draw from that account. We’ve earned the “interest” so to speak.
And now you find yourself in the caregiving years. Whether this is with your spouse, your mother, father, or sister, all of those gathered conversations become even more precious when you come to the end of life. Even the medical profession is now recognizing the need to talk candidly to their patients about end of life and quality of life decisions.
At some point, you will have a final conversation.
You might not know it, and perhaps you shouldn’t. It’s not about saying just the right thing. It’s not about saying good bye even, it is and isn’t a culmination of all your talks–the baby talk, lullabies, warnings, corrections, arguments, growing pains, and reconciliations you’ve had over the years.
Technically, that last conversation may in a car, over the phone, or in a hospital bed, holding hands. It will, in years to come, be precious.
There are no guarantees. Our loved ones can walk out the door this minute, and we won’t have the privilege of knowing that death is on its way. Sometimes it’s quick, too soon, and all together unexpected.
For others, it may be the slow road of Alzheimer’s, or the painful road of cancer. We may find ourselves calling hospice, and making memorial plans as our loved one lingers.
So how do you say good bye? And should you?
Yes. If you know your loved one is dying, it’s important to have that last conversation. Those who work in hospice will tell you that this quiet moment is important to both of you.
What do I say?
Of course, it’s different for everyone, but many times our loved ones need us to to them:
It’s okay for them to go…that we love them and always will, but we’ll be fine.
We are the ones holding them to this life, and sadly, we may unintentionally be tying them to a life of pain and emptiness. Tell them it’s okay for them to go now Tell them not to worry. Assure them you will be okay.
It’s important to say I’m sorry–and I forgive you.
You may have said it a thousand times, or never have said it in your life. Do it. No one can have a relationship without some hurts and misunderstandings building up over time. This isn’t something you want to regret later, so say it, feel it, and let it go.
I’ve heard so many stories about how after saying these simple things–you can go now, I’m sorry, and forgive me–that their loved one passes away in peace. It’s also a interesting phenomenon that is observed in hospitals and hospice situations–a loved one hangs on, excruciatingly long, and then when their family leaves–for a meeting, or out of exhaustion and need for sleep–the loved passes away when they’re finally alone.
I can’t tell you how your last conversation should go.
Everyone has their own style, their own family’s culture and personality–some are wordy, others are witty, a few are formal and stoic…it doesn’t matter.
Be yourself, but be there.
Talk, or don’t talk (who says a conversation has to consist of words?)
Hold hands, hum a hymn, read from the Bible, or recite a poem or sing a lullaby, or sit silently. If you feel like they still can’t let go, then consider stepping out. You’re not abandoning them. We can’t go with them, and for some, it has to be done alone.
Whatever winds up being your last conversation isn’t a mistake.
Nothing is a mistake.
Trust that the simple banter about feeding the cat or pick up the dry cleaning is just the talk you needed to have. You may look back and recognize that the words or look or touch you’re seeking occurred weeks or months before.
Be at peace and know that in many ways, your last conversation hasn’t happened yet.
You can continue to talk, journal, whisper and pray. Your story, your conversation, and your loved one goes on.
~Carol D. O’Dell
Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle
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