Death and Dying: Saying Goodbye to Someone You Love
Five ways to find the right words to say your final farewell to a dying loved one:
I recently read a great piece in the New York Times on how individuals can find the right words to say goodbye to someone they love. The author of the article, Bruce Feiler offered five recommendations for those last conversations (see below), which I think are helpful not only for the loved ones of dying individuals, but for those facing end-of-life as well. Obviously goodbyes are not easy, but finding the most meaningful way to express your feelings can also be stressful. In hopes of helping with those final farewells to someone you love, I have summarized Feiler’s suggestions below:
Feiler makes the point that in this day and age, when we have any number of medicines or machines that can extend a person’s life, if only for a few minutes, hours, or days, it can be difficult to determine which conversation will be the final one. Add to that the pressure associated with final words and it’s no wonder Feiler says some may be better off not having a specific final conversation. Instead, focus on keeping all interactions upbeat and comfortable, if you can.
While you have the opportunity, you might want to have important discussions about your relationship. There’s no need to wait for the final conversation either. If you’re unsure of what to say, Feiler suggests telling people what they’ve done for you (i.e. how they’ve impacted your life) or what they’ve taught you (for more suggestions read our post on what to say to a dying loved one). And if you can’t be present, it can be even more difficult to have these discussions – but even from a distance you can express your love and gratitude.
Say the Obvious
To reduce the pressure associated with your final conversations, Feiler recommends reducing the expectation that you have to be eloquent. After all, your goal is to express your genuine feelings – so simple expressions like “I love you,” “Thank you,” and “Please forgive me” will work just fine if they are truly heartfelt.
Say it with Actions
Perhaps finding the right words is just too difficult. If that’s the case, try an easier approach of doing something together with your loved one that represents how you feel. You could tell jokes, reminisce about the past, play cards, watch a football game, enjoy a cup of juice together, etc.
Say it Even if They Can’t Respond
What if your sick loved one can’t communicate? Or what if you are facing end-of-life and still have some final loose ends to tie? According to Feiler, saying goodbye – or, better yet, expressing your appreciation – even if the person may not be able to respond to you, is extremely gratifying. If your loved one can’t communicate, verbalize your feelings anyway. And if you are the one facing end-of-life, consider writing a note or leaving some other form of message for those that matter to you, even if they won’t have the opportunity to respond to you. After all, your words could very well have an impact even if the other isn’t able to partake in the conversation.
Leah Yomtovian Roush is the Senior Manager of Strategic Development for Cleveland, Ohio-based eFuneral, a comprehensive and free online resource that enables those thinking about end-of-life to research, plan, and arrange a wide variety of funeral-related services. Leah is the editor of eFuneral's Online Resource Center, and she manages the company's marketing efforts and develops strategies for company growth. Leah also serves on the Boards of multiple non-profit organizations, helping them expand their reaches and increase their impacts.