Saying Good-Bye Before the Death of a Loved One Occurs
Terminal Illness Versus Untimely Death
As difficult as it is to watch a loved one slowly deteriorate due to a terminal illness, it does provide one time to make the adjustment to the inevitable.
Not so with the untimely sudden death, such as occurs from a heart-attack, stroke, aneurysm, or the like. By the time you find out your loved one suffered an injury, they may have already passed away.
However, if you find yourself in the position of having time to prepare for the passing of someone you care about, I hope you remember to say good-bye, no matter how painful it is for you to do so.
Once someone you love has died, it is too late for, 'I should haves', or 'I wish I had remembered to'. Your opportunity was regrettably squandered, to the detriment of your friend or family member and to yourself.
You will not have to live with that often unshakable regret, if you prepare in advance for the good-bye your dying one deserves.
Fight the Tendency to Distance Yourself
It is totally understandable to feel the instinct to pull back when you realize your beloved one is near the end of their life. Death is never pleasant to watch, and of course it is a painful reminder of our own mortality. But actually, that is when they may need you the most. Rarely does someone relish the thought of dying alone with no final contact with those who have been a part of their life for so many years.
Sometimes to justify not reaching out to our terminally ill friends, we tell ourselves it is just too hard to watch them suffer and waste away. “I want to remember them as they were”, we say. Well as difficult as it may be for you to watch your friend wither away, just think of how hard it is to BE the one actually dying. Pain may be incredible at times. You are constantly aware that your life is coming to an end. If you were in their place, would you not need and want your friends to actively support you, rather than pull back and observe you from a safe distance?
Timely visits or phone calls, is the key. Perhaps discerning when the pain is at its most tolerable level would enable you to feel more comfortable calling or visiting and it would allow your visitor to enjoy your interaction as well.
When Saying Good-bye is Not Possible
As was my experience with my mom, sometimes the deterioration happens so suddenly, your loved one passes from critical condition to terminal in just a matter of hours.
I quickly found myself in the horrible position of not only finding out her death was imminent, but also in a mad dash to get to my dear mother before she was pronounced dead.
It took maybe 30-45 minutes from the time my husband and little sister told me my mom had a blood infection that would take her life at any time, to digest the news, suffer shock, break down in tears, and then pull myself together to scramble back to the hospital to see her for the final time.
We arrived at the hospital and as soon as we stepped out of the elevator, a code was in effect. Buzzers were going off, nurses and doctors were scrambling. I remember feeling paralyzed with fear, afraid to see what was happening and whether my mom was still alive. As we made our way down the hallway, we could see they were all rushing into the room my mom was in. She was in cardiac arrest for the second time. There would be one more arrest before she quietly passed away.
After they successfully started my mom’s heart that second time, her doctor left her side and approached us as we watched from the outside of her room. The doctor started peppering us with the end of life questions we were not prepared to answer. This was especially true for my sister who was my mom’s medical proxy. With hardly enough time to accept my mom’s imminent death, she was being asked what she wanted them to do if my mom‘s heart arrested again. She was expected to tell them whether they should keep trying or let my mom go. She was unprepared and unwilling to do so.
The disbelief and emotional toll, finally caught up to my baby sister and she told us all she did not expect to have to decide such things. I watched her eyes fill with tears. I started to console her and suddenly she began to collapse to the floor. I was startled and unsure of what was happening to her, I began calling her by name thinking she may have fainted, I was holding her up and my husband was doing the same, requesting the nurses get a chair for her. When we sat her down, she put her hand in her head and began to sob.
I guess the big sister in me kicked in. I asked her if she wanted me to give the final instructions, which she agreed to. It is truly horrifying to tell strangers to let your mom pass away, the next time her heart fails.
I did it by thinking of my mom and what was best for her. I didn’t want her heart shocked over and over again in a futile attempt to preserve her life. Unbeknownst to anyone else, my mom’s feet were accidentally uncovered while they resuscitated her. I saw blackened feet from her toes to her ankles. I remember thinking if she survived her feet would have to be amputated, as they looked completely dead to me. I felt this was further proof that her time had come.
In between the two final cardiac arrests we said good-bye to my mom.
I didn’t know if it was even possible for my mom to hear me. We had been told beforehand that her pupils were fixed and dilated, and a machine was keeping her heart pumping. When I saw my mom her eyes were opened part way, but she was not moving or blinking her eyes in any way. In my head, I believed she was already gone, but my heart wanted to say something reassuring to her, just in case she was still able to hear voices.
I told my mom it was ok to go, not to worry about us because we would take care of one another, that we would see her again, mentioning our specific religious beliefs regarding death and resurrection and I ended with, “I love you, Ocean” I was determined not to cry or sound upset, feeling it would not send a comforting message to my mom, if she could in fact hear me talking to her.
It wasn’t about me at that moment, I kept telling myself, it was about helping my mom pass away with a bit of security. It wasn’t until the very end and the final I love you that my voice finally cracked and my emotions tried to spill out. I quickly went to the other side of the room, so that she wouldn’t hear me, and my husband and I cried in each other’s arms. My husband had already said good-bye and my sister was the last to say good-bye before my mom arrested for the third and final time.
There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish I had an opportunity to say a proper farewell to my mom. Had I known the infection they told us about on Friday would take her life on Sunday, I would have made sure I had a final talk with her to express my love and affection and to thank her for being a great mom. We don’t always get those opportunities though, death cannot always be predicted in advance, and at times the body fails swiftly and completely with just hours to prepare, if that.
Express Appreciation and Share Positive Feelings
If you have advance notice of someone’s terminal illness and if you will feel a great sense of loss once they are gone, make it your business to call them or visit them, so that they realize you care. Tell them you are glad you have such a good friend. You don’t have to speak in the past tense, as though they are already gone. Tell them what you love about them now. Share a fond memory or a funny story. Just let them know they are special to you.
If you are closer than a friend and have an intimate relationship, try to find the perfect opportunity to make your loved one smile. Draw on all the special moments you shared and use something from those occasions when their life force is ebbing away. Think of how good it will feel to know you made that person’s pain diminish just a little toward the end of life.
Remember, if you have a special connection, you will spark a reaction from your loved one, even if death is just hours away. The important thing is to make that connection and to do it for them. When death is that close it is not about us - it is about our loved ones.
Many medical professionals say hearing is often the last of the senses to go. So even if someone has stopped speaking, they can hear words of comfort spoken by close family and friends. They can even gather strength from phone calls, as they can hear a voice even if they are unable to respond.
From here on out I hope we all use our opportunity to say good-bye if we are fortunate enough to have it. It is truly a final gift to share with someone we love.
"No Air" by Jordin Sparks
This song, "No Air", speaks to how I have felt many times since my mom passed away.
When I was first told my mom was going to pass away, it literally felt as if all the air in my body had been sucked out and I was in constant inhale mode unable to breathe. I wondered how I would go on. A feeling I am sure many others shared upon losing a loved one.