Higher Living Reflections

The Last Conversation

One of life’s greatest blessings is an individual’s network of friends and family. The tough part comes at the end, when a member of one’s personal tribe dies. Some pass unexpectedly; others pass slowly, perhaps after a pain-filled stretch combatting cancer or another deadly disease. No matter the circumstances though, the pain of the loss is great.

For those moving through the final stage of anticipated death, an opportunity might exist to say goodbye, to have a last conversation with him or her. In a sense it brings closure, but it also brings challenges. What to talk about?

What topics come to mind? Which memories? Do you talk about their dying, events leading up to this point and what might be after? Address their fears if any? Should you plan, have thoughts in mind or leave it open, spontaneous? How to end it? You can’t blithely utter any of our usual throwaway lines such as “Catch you next week” knowing there will be no next week for him/her and you.

I have had several such talks, and I’ve learned two things: There are no correct answers, and it doesn’t get easier.

I learned the hard way. One of my life regrets is having denied a friend that knew his end was approaching the opportunity to talk about it. When he quipped as we drove past a funeral home about how convenient it was for him to live near one, I was taken aback and dismissed it by saying something to the effect that he had plenty of time ahead.

A week later, another opportunity presented itself as we shared a light lunch. But again, I felt uncomfortable engaging the topic, which I believe he wanted to talk about.

At the end, our final words were about the intense pain that seared every nerve before the morphine being administered by the hospice nurse took effect. Then, it was too late.

After reflecting on my role during his battle with cancer and his passing, I resolved thence forward to be open to every occasion for a last conversation.

I write this a few days after a final talk with a very dear friend. She fought valiantly the fight against breast cancer, but she would not be a survivor.

As she lay on her bed at home under hospice palliative care, we talked one last time. We were friends from young adulthood. We grew, matured, and aged together. We supported each other through challenging times, offering insight and giving encouragement.

Her voice was barely audible at first but seemed to strengthen as talked. It didn’t last more than a few minutes, but in that short time, so much was said, verbally and nonverbally. Tears flowed and thanks exchanged for being such good friends to each other.

We will never talk again about the various teas or recipes we shared, our gardening endeavors, or her experiences teaching preschoolers about bugs and other little critters. So much to cover in so little time. But so much, if not all, was said not by being said, but by being present and having that last conversation.

She has now passed. RIP

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Cheryl
    April 4, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    (:

  • Reply
    Angela
    April 4, 2019 at 11:14 pm

    Brings back great memories of brother Rich. Watching the Andy Griffith Show and Everybody Loves Raymond. We’d just sit and laugh 😂. Last conversation with sister Boots 😢 and holding Aunt Liz’s hand and praying the Rosary with her. Special moments filled with love.

  • Reply
    Patricia Sellers
    April 5, 2019 at 12:02 am

    I’m so sorry you lost your friend. I like to think that we’ll see our people again.
    Very good read, Uncle. Thank you for sharing that ♡

  • Reply
    Allynn Riggs
    April 5, 2019 at 5:27 pm

    I’ve been able to have some amazing last conversations. From talking about my wedding and the life ahead with my grandmother who missed the wedding due to surgery which found inoperable colon cancer and the entire family and decided to wait to tell us the results until we returned from our honeymoon. My husband and I shared photos from the event with her as she lay in bed talking about her fifty years with my grandfather. My step-grandmother who showed us all how to die with grace, honor, and love even as a series of massive strokes took her away – she clung to reality long enough for my eldest daughter to regal her with the story of her graduation trip to Europe to play soccer in France and Italy. Then my father-in-law who shared memories of life on the South Dakota plains in the early 1900s and my mother with whom I shared a chocolate milkshake. So many great conversations and even some laughter and surprisingly very few tears. All showed me that death was not something to be feared. Thank you, Jerry for helping me remember my last conversations. I’m sure I will have more.

  • Reply
    Bonnie McCune
    April 5, 2019 at 8:46 pm

    I just lost a close friend to breast cancer, too. Someone told me the easiest first step is to dredge up a memory, of any type. And my friend certainly did encourage that. Visiting another declining friend in a dementia unit has exposed me to some good ideas, too. People bring photos and chat about them. I also read children’s poetry or very easy early readers. I don’t know that anything’s getting through, but the rhythms seem to be received. This is the pits; all I can think about is I won’t see her again. A reminder not to put off visits, talks, exchanges because you might not get another chance.

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