Death is so final. And yet, dying can be done in a fleeting moment; there is only one breath between dying and dead. If we’re not careful, or if we’re unlucky enough not to be present at the death of a loved one, we can miss the opportunity to say something that we really need to say. I’m not talking specifically about confessions, although sometimes they might be appropriate; I’m talking about How To Say Goodbye.
Ideally, anything you say to a dying loved one should be something you’ve already made known to them when they were healthy. But we don’t live in an ideal world, so it’s important to say what we need to say before they are gone. If we don’t, then we are left with not only our grief, but also our guilt for not having said things we should have said.
When my husband was dying, our children were in the room of the hospice that was caring for him in those final days of his life. I said what I needed to say, with our children right there, partly as closure for myself and partly to show them How To Say Goodbye. I sat down next to him and spoke directly to his sleeping face. I told him I was sorry that our marriage hadn’t lasted into our old age. I also apologised for any hurt I may have caused him when we were experiencing difficult patches in our lives. I also thanked him for being a loving father to our kids, and for our enduring friendship. I rested my forehead against his, and told myself that I also forgave him for leaving us so soon.
Letting a loved one go is not just about being able to say we did everything we could to keep them here with us. It is about taking a moment to make sure we’ve said everything we needed to say to them, even when we aren’t really ready to let them go. And grief is difficult enough, without unnecessary regret.