A Meaningful Goodbye
If the end of your loved one’s life is approaching, there will naturally be many conflicting emotions and difficult moments. In a very real sense, your own grieving process has already begun, and it can be hard to anticipate this special person’s possible suffering and the finality of letting go.
But this time can also be a precious gift, as you ponder ways to spend the time you have left honoring your loved one and connecting with them in meaningful ways. Here are a few ideas to consider as you seek to make the most of the days that remain.
Listen to your loved one and act on their wishes. When broaching sensitive topics, a gentle, candid approach is best. Make sure to let your loved one know that their wishes come first.
How do they want to spend their time? How can you help? Often when a person in the final stage of life is presented with the idea of “last wishes,” it can prompt them to think of meaningful ways that they want to say goodbye and finish life on a positive note.
Make sure to communicate that you are there to help in any way possible. While it may not be feasible to fulfill all of their wishes, the conversations that result from openly exploring these ideas with your loved one can in themselves create opportunities to bond and make new memories.
Ease your loved one’s mind.
Often, a source of tension for someone facing the end of life is a natural concern for the ones they are leaving behind. This time is difficult for everyone involved, and your loved one may want to focus on how you and others will cope after they are gone.
Try to strike a balance in conversations that broach this subject. There will be difficulties and grieving, to be sure. But you can also reassure your loved one that you will be okay. Take time to let them know that you will be able to grieve – and heal as well.
To the extent that you and your loved one are willing, now may be a good opportunity to record conversations, write in journals and capture special moments in photos and video. While there will be some natural sadness as you go through a collection later, many people find the lasting memories to be well worth the effort spent.
If health concerns restrict visits, you may also wish to record greetings and meaningful messages from friends and family and play them back for your loved one.
Touch and sound can communicate deeply.
If your loved one has a debilitating condition, whether physical or mental, some of these options may not be possible. But many experts in the medical field agree that physical touch and the sound of a familiar voice carry powerful meaning even when other forms of communication and responses are limited.
And well after a patient becomes unable to verbalize or show physical signals, touch and sound are felt and heard. Know that as you speak to and hold your dear one, or play selections of favorite music, these things can have a comforting and deeply meaningful effect even when the person does not noticeably react.
Invite the right people to participate.
Ask your loved one who they wish to spend time with. There may be wishes for reconciliation or dear friends not seen for a long time. Perhaps your loved one takes comfort in children and grandchildren. Phone calls or even long-distance online video conversations might be arranged for those who are unable to come in person.
It all comes down to your loved one’s preferences. If they draw encouragement from social gatherings, plan a get-together accordingly. If they have specific things to say to certain people, develop a plan and that accommodates everyone’s schedules.
And feel free to consult those closest to you – friends, family and spiritual advisors who can help with planning and take on some of the communication that needs to happen.
Approach things realistically.
It is important to consider your loved one’s needs while taking into account the practicalities involved. If you are certain that logistics or relationship dynamics may make particular wishes too complex to be realized, look for ways to gently guide the options in a direction that is more feasible.
Each person will have different needs and tolerances. As a primary caregiver, you have invaluable insight into your specific situation. But don’t hesitate to talk things over with your loved one, trusted friends, close family members and your hospice care team. Try to find a balance between your loved one’s most important desires and their ability to spend time engaging with people.
Ideally your time together will allow for a balanced schedule, filled with meaningful visits and special moments. As you seek to guide the day-to-day reality of these times, pay close attention to how your loved one is holding up. The most important thing is that they are taking comfort and enjoying the time. You may want to work out signals beforehand so your loved one can feel secure in their ability to extend or shorten visits or activities as they desire.
Last moments, lasting memories.
Remember, while there are many practical concerns that must be worked out – and your loved one’s input may be required – there comes a time when these issues can be put aside. Your final days together can hold precious moments of conversation and deep bonding. Each situation is unique, but it is possible to take time and say goodbye in a way that is right for you and your loved one.
We’re here for you.
The chaplains, counselors, social workers and volunteers of Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County are here to provide support, compassion and reassurance to you and your loved ones through every step of life’s final stages.
Our ongoing grief and loss support groups are open to all in our community at no cost. We also offer specialized one-on-one counseling, support groups and other activities to help children and adolescents understand and cope with feelings of grief.
For more information or to register for any of these groups, please contact Randy Berryhill at 704-873-4719, ext. 4353.