We need you and can’t lose you now. You have to fight this so we can have more time. Don’t give up!
It may feel like person is choosing to die when they no longer want to fight. That can leave us with a sense of abandonment if we believe the person really has a choice. But in truth, there comes a time where we must all come to the natural end of life. That knowing and acceptance often comes to the person long before the family.
Let’s face it. It will never be a good time for anyone we love to die. The desire to hold onto every minute, with the hope for more minutes and hours and days, is normal. The pain of loss is the price of love and we want to put off that pain as long as possible, but at what cost?
Ann was dying in the hospital. Her husband and two children knew she would never return home, and they remained by her side. After 3 days, I was surprised to see Ann was still clinging to life, but I understood when I overheard the whispered pleading of her young adult children.
They were grasping the hands of their barely conscious mother and kept repeating,
“You’re going to get better mom. We’ll get you out of here and when you are stronger, we’ll take that trip to Hawaii.”
What Ann heard is that her children were not ready to let her go.
So she stayed, just barely holding death at bay, despite her body working to shut down.
I shared this interaction with the husband and he then took the children to another room to speak to them. They returned 10 minutes later, red-eyed but resolved.
They again sat by their mother and grasped her hands and this time tearfully whispered,
“We love you. We’re going to miss you.
But we’re going to be ok.”
Ann relaxed and died 10 minutes later.
Sometimes people need permission to leave. They may need to know that who they leave behind will be cared for, whether it’s a spouse with Alzheimer’s, their 20 cats, or even that their daughter who has yet to find a good man. Finding out and addressing their concerns is helpful in the letting go process.
There are times when the dying person knows how hard this is for the family, who is holding on, and may wait to die until they step out of the room or fall asleep at the bedside.
There are times when the family is ready and ‘releases’ their loved one by declaring:
“It’s ok to go now, Grandma”. That’s ok. Only need to say it once, though. Now Grandma also needs to let go, as does her body.
You say feel it’s never ok to say that since it’s not ok that the person you love is dying.
That’s ok, too. Good byes and closure can come in many forms.
Tell your favorite stories. It affirms the life you shared while letting the person know how they will be remembered.
Holding on, letting go – a process to be recognized and gently honored for everyone involved.