23rd August 2020
Not all goodbyes we get to say.
Sometimes we miss our colleague’s farewells, don’t realise our favourite cafe in town 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, their families 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 same for all – how do you say goodbye to a dying loved one?
In his book “The Four Things That Matter Most”, Dr. Ira Byock writes about the four things to say to someone before they are gone forever:
“I forgive you.”
“Please forgive me.”
“I love you.”
Though his book is a collection of stories about the dead, I think it’s really for the ones left behind alive. How do we go on living after someone’s passed away? Maybe what Dr. Byock is saying is that goodbyes are really more for us to carry on living than those who depart. Perhaps why I found myself talking to a box earlier this week.
I was decluttering the top shelf of my wardrobe when 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 iforgiveyoupleaseforgivemeIloveyouthankyou. 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 bloom into the person we’ve always wanted to be and sometimes when life batters us such that we turn cold and drain to this dark shadow of ourselves we never imagined we could 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 that goodbyes are a chance for closure; acceptance. But to me goodbyes are scary. They signify 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.
To keep on living, Anand.