How to Say Goodbye to a Loved One
I recently lost my aunt, and although she battled pancreatic cancer bravely for three years, a stroke and a blood clot ultimately ended her fight.
When I received the call that she had chosen to go home and enjoy her final days, I was sad but hopeful. I thought I’d visit her and find her as I had a dear, sweet mentor and friend the year before.
My Pastor’s wife, Sister Brewer as I called her, was my mentor, friend, and confidante. She was my spiritual counselor and was like a mother in the faith. She knew me before I became a mom and had prayed for us to conceive when we wanted to start a family, and subsequently was my prayer warrior through each of my pregnancies as I suffered from hyperemesis. She prophetically passed her mantle onto me, and we shared a bond that was truly heaven-sent.
Her battle with Parkinson’s left her frail and weak, unable to eat much or talk much, but still able to do things with assistance.
I went to visit her in Missouri and found her able to sit up and communicate a little. She would lay on the couch under a blanket because she was always cold, and I would rub her feet and talk to her. We would have breakfast together at Starbuck’s, where she would eat a plain bagel each morning and pretend she had eaten a large meal like it would be enough to sustain her.
She was frail and losing much of her independence, but she held my baby and laughed with us, taking an interest, as always, in all of the things in our lives.
She would be gone within the year, and that was the last time I would see her.
It seems we both knew it, and we cried. I told her I loved her and kept kissing her tiny, aged hands over and over again. I kept hugging her and talking to her. I can still see her crying as we drove away, both of us heartbroken.
I imagined finding my aunt in a similar condition. I thought she would be frail and weak from her surgery and her stay in the hospital, but I pictured her sitting in her chair in her den and talking to me. I imagined the spunk that had always been in her eyes to be there, assuring me she was not giving up her fight with cancer.
She had always been a fighter. She did not want to be another cancer statistic and did everything she could to fight back. For three long years, she fought bravely and stayed positive. She had so much life left to live.
That’s just who she was. Light and love. She filled every room with light and laughter. She was always taking every opportunity in life for adventure and fun, and I was blessed enough to have been a part of some of them.
I was not prepared to find her in a hospital bed in her home, completely bedridden, and hooked up to oxygen and a catheter. She had refused a feeding tube, and IVs for hydration were not possible. She could barely move her mouth or speak at all because of the stroke. She was pale and bruised.
When I held her hand, it was warm and soft, as was her thin blonde hair, which she never lost completely in chemotherapy.
I was not in any way prepared to see her that way, in a hospital bed in her home, surrounded by all her loved ones as they each made their trips for a final goodbye, me included.
Through her weakened voice, she asked me about my Popo, my grandfather, and I broke. I thought I had misunderstood her question, but she asked me again. I had to tell her he had passed. Then with shocked eyes, she asked me when, and I could barely get out that he had died nearly 19 years ago. Then I had to walk away and cry.
I realized at that moment that she was more ‘over there’ than she was ‘here.’ Heaven was calling, and those who were gone were real to her again. She had called for her mama earlier that morning, too.
It was coming—the end of her life here on earth.
I could not stop crying.
It was a familiar pain.
I had lost so many already.
Why does it never get easier?
Why is saying goodbye SO hard?
Even when you know it’s not forever. It’s still so very painful.
All the memories, all the living, the laughing, and the beauty take precedence over any of the pain in life, and that’s what makes it so excruciating.
Saying goodbye to a life, a soul that loved you, is probably one of the hardest things on earth.
I cannot imagine losing a parent or a child or a spouse. That type of pain is incomprehensible to me, and I do not pretend to understand that. For those of you who have experienced that, my heart breaks for you. There simply are no words.
This life is hard, wrought with trials and tribulations, challenges and failures, but in the middle of it all are people we are blessed enough to have in our lives who bring light, joy, hope, encouragement, strength, faith, laughter, and LOVE.
It’s their love that makes this life worth living and makes these days we have on earth so very precious.
It’s their love that keeps us going on hard days, even after they’re gone.
Their lives are like beacons of light, beckoning us onward:
To keep living,
To keep trying,
To keep hoping,
To keep laughing,
And to keep loving.
I’m not really trying to sound poetic about death, but there’s something about losing someone you love that helps you appreciate the life you have.
If there’s any comfort in death, it’s this; that life is precious, and it is short, and all we have is now. All we have are each other, and we need to live in a way that helps each other.
Jesus said it best, “ Love each other as I have loved you,” and “they will know that you are mine by your love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Ultimately that’s what we have in this life, is our love for each other.
When a loved one dies, we remember how they made us feel, the things they did for us, the experiences we shared, and the love that was shared.
That’s what lasts. Those are the things that outlive a heartbeat.
Death takes a body, but it cannot steal the love.
There may not be peace in saying goodbye, but there can be peace in knowing there was love.
I leave you with this:
Philippians 4:8 says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Let your memories of your loved one(s) be full of those things.