How to say goodbye
He hovered around her, fluffing her pillows and clearing away her uneaten breakfast. He cheerfully reported all that he had accomplished so early in the day, and wondered what else he could do for her before taking off again into his busyness. And she lay there smiling, and dying.
All the while, she talked to me about the meaning of her life. She made it clear she didn’t need his help with that; she only needed from him what he had to give.
The dance of life as death approaches is intimately serene in this hospital room. He flitters around, calmed by his steady course of action. She lies quietly bathed in the light of her own growing spirit.
There are tears, of course. But they are the kind that flow from a heart that is slowly beating its final rhythmic lullaby. They are the sweet tears that are shed for the beauty of it all. For life. For love. For graces bestowed.
He will keep moving when she’s gone. And then one day he will either join her, or he will slow down and find unexpected comfort in the sound of his own heartbeat. No matter which way it goes, she will be there, loving him, as she always did.
Even though I didn’t know this couple, that scene is beautifully engraved in my mind. I was only there for a short time to offer a diversion in my work as a healing artist.
But she didn’t need a diversion. She was as fully immersed in her dying as I imagined she had been in her living. Which she was still doing.
She didn’t really need anything from me, but what she accepted was a chance to be heard as she processed what those final days meant to her.
Dying is no small thing.
There is so much to say.
If we or our loved ones are able to do it without the pain we all fear so much about the process, it is surely worth experiencing with our eyes wide open.
We can find the meaning in our lives. Our relationships. Our lessons. Our gifts.
It’s sad how disconnected so many of us are from the truths that lie within us. How focused on the external we become in the challenges of work and family and money and politics and all that plays out on the movie screen of our lives.
When the end comes, if we can still think clearly and we have the time to prepare for our final goodbye, none of those things matter quite so much.
We wonder if we mattered; if we will be remembered.
We wonder if we cherished the gift of our lives enough.
We wonder if we can be forgiven for our shortcomings and mistakes.
Or, if we are like the patient whose final days were filled with serenity, we know the answers already because we lived as consciously as we were prepared to die.
I guess the only thing worth saying, here, is I wish this same thing for everyone. We’re human and we fall short of our own and others’ expectations all the time. But even so, can we live a little differently so that in our final breath, what we take and what we leave behind is the echoing silence of serenity?
If you need help expressing your grief, as you look back, or reflecting on your own life, as you look forward, click here. The meditations and writing exercises are a privately gentle pathway to your own serenity.