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