On Saying Goodbye

Dec 31, 2012 | 0 comments

How do we find the words to say a good goodbye? At the tenuous end-of-life time, what do we say to the dying when we don’t ever exactly know the precise moment when someone will die? What do the dying say to us – or not?

A column by Bruce Feiler in the New York Times explores these questions. His column Exit Lines looks at what people say, or don’t say, leading up to death in real life versus what gets said in the movies. He gives examples of screenwriter Nora Ephron and film reviewer Gene Siskel, who both died without informing people much in advance of the seriousness of their diagnoses.

Feiler poses the question, “What is the best thinking about how to make farewell conversations less stressful and more meaningful?” His interviews with film reviewer Roger Ebert, Joan Halifax, the abbot of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, N.M., Ira Byock, the director of palliative care at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and others provided great insights.

Here are suggestions, breaking it down into these categories:

  • Say Nothing: Life-extending medical machinery can keep people alive, sort of, indefinitely. You never know when the last day will be.
  • Say Something Before It’s Too Late: To avoid the issue of timing, as well as the deterioration that often afflicts terminal patients, many experts advise having important conversations while everyone is still able.
  • Say The Obvious: Keep it simple and don’t worry about trying to be eloquent – “Please forgive me.” “I forgive you.” “Thank you.” “I love you.”
  • Say It With Deeds: Do something for or with the patient that expresses how you feel.
  • Say It Even If They Can’t Hear You: Everyone Feiler spoke to said you should still have a farewell conversation, even if it’s one-way.

Check out all the information in this excellent This Life column. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation.

A Good Goodbye