23rd August 2020
Not all goodbyes we get to say.
Sometimes we miss our colleague’s farewells, don’t realise our favourite cafe has closed down, run away from home in the middle of the night, don’t make peace with a dying loved one.
In hospitals around the world right now there are some patients taking slow, halting breaths in intensive care units where there is nothing more their doctors can do for them. In the more expensive hospitals, the family would have been taken to a warm, carpeted room with soothing art and pink peonies and spoken to very gently preparing them to say their final goodbyes. In poorer medical centres, families sit in the cold corridors reeking of urine and phenol staring blankly at peeling walls. But the dilemma is same for all – what do you say to a dying loved one?
In his book “The Four Things That Matter Most”, Dr. Ira Byock a professor in palliative care writes about the four things to say to someone before they are gone forever:
“I forgive you.”
“Please forgive me.”
“I love you.”
Though the book is a collection of stories about the dead, it’s for the living. It’s actually about how you would go on living after someone’s passed away. I think what Dr. Byock is saying is that goodbyes are really more for us than the other person. Which is probably why I found myself talking to a box earlier this week.
While decluttering the top shelve of my wardrobe, I came across a box with stuff. Stuff I spent the entire afternoon cautiously going through as if I was going through someone else’s belongings. At some point in the afternoon, I found myself blubbering, hiccuping, whispering rather theatrically into the box I.forgive.you,.please.forgive.me.I.love.youuuu.thank.youuuu. I then fell asleep for 5 hours.
I think we die several times during our lifetime before we actually die. Sometimes we die when we unlearn who we were taught to be, sometimes when we leap and become the person we’ve always wanted to be and sometimes when life’s such a bitch that we grow cold and we change to being someone we’ve never wanted to be.
Goodbyes are not easy. Perhaps that’s we try so hard to avoid them. Especially when it’s letting go of someone you used to be. Dr. Byock writes goodbyes is a chance for closure; acceptance. But to me goodbyes are scary. It signifies the end, the finality of it all.
And that’s why I think there are some goodbyes that we owe to ourselves – even if it takes talking to a box.