I watched an elderly gentleman struggling with saying goodbye to his older dying sister. It was obvious that he felt awkward and was grappling with what to say.
He stammered, “You look good today” then he blurted out “My, are we having good weather” and then finally said “Oh, you have a lot of visitors” before he turned away from the patient and began talking with the rest of us in the hospital room.
All the while the brother was attempting to say goodbye, his sister had a blank gaze into space and likely had no comprehension of her brother’s visit. I felt a sense of sadness for the man, realizing that he probably held a great deal of emotional pain in his heart.
That experience and similar ones that I have been privy too, make me think about ways we can approach a dying loved one when we need to say goodbye.
First, I want to make it clear that it is perfectly fine to cry in front of your dying loved one. Tears are more powerful than words when it comes to communicating your love for someone.
Physicians think that hearing is the last of the senses to cease functioning in the dying process, so talk as if your loved one is listening.
If you need to apologize for anything, do it. If you need to express your appreciation for something regarding them, do it. Do it while you can before it becomes an unresolved regret in memory.
If you are not sure what to say, consider these sentence starters:
I’ll always remember the time…
What I’ve always admired about you is…
I’ve always been grateful that you taught me…
What I’m going to miss most is…
Of course, it’s always fine to simply hold your dying loved one and say “Goodbye” or even add something referring to being together again in Heaven.
You could add “but goodbye is not forever. I will spend the remainder of my years looking forward to seeing you again.”
Or you could add, “but goodbye is only temporary because we will be together again in eternity.”
When King David’s baby died at only a few days old, he said, “Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23 NIV).
Like David who spoke of his hope in joining his child in eternity, we ought to hope in joining our loved one’s there too.
Don’t neglect saying your final goodbye to a loved one because you are uncomfortable about it or afraid you’ll break down trying to voice it.
If you can’t find the words, let your tears do the speaking, let your embrace communicate it, and allow your presence to let it be known.