One of my friends is dying. She is no longer battling a deadly disease, at least from the reports that I hear. She’s dying. But on the surface, the emails that I get (not from her, I’m sure she’s too exhausted and in too much pain to be reading or writing much of anything) are full of awe of her fighting spirit, and make it sound like she’s still going to “beat this thing.”
Unfortunately, I know how awful it is to have to acknowledge that you’ve hit the point of no return. In the year before Karl died, I was told roughly every two months to be prepared, that this was going to be the weekend when he didn’t make it. But always he pulled through, and I know one reason, not to overestimate my power, was that I wasn’t giving him permission to go. When he asked me if I was ready for him to die, I would always say, “No, please don’t.”
Finally, 48 hours after he’d passed into what seemed like the final sleep, he woke up and asked me for some Fig Newtons, about the only food he could keep down. I wanted to scream. I had been ready, believed this was the end….and it wasn’t. I asked him what he was fighting for, and he said, remarkably, “I still want to beat this thing.” I said, “You weigh 80 pounds. What are you going to beat it with?” He looked at me really carefully, the first clear look I’d gotten from him in days. He said, “Do you want me to die?” And I said, “Yes. I want you to die. I love you. It’s time.” And he said, “OK. Let’s watch TV.” And that was it.
It took another 36 hours. They were some of the worst ones of my life. At one point, I completely lost my voice. I had this bizarre feeling my trachaea had collapsed down so that I could barely get any air in, much less make a sound, just enough air to live. Mom got me through it. She and the hospice nurse took care of him, because I couldn’t watch him die, it was too horrible. I didn’t even see Karl until about an hour before he died, when I crawled up next to him on the bed and took his hand. He squeezed it very, very softly. I fell asleep.
The moment that he died was truly amazing. I woke up; I probably heard that last breath. I looked at him and saw my mom standing in the doorway. I said, “Look. He’s so beautiful.” She said, “Honey, he’s gone.” I said, a little bewildered, “Where did he go?” And she said, “Honey, he’s gone.” I put my head on his chest and said, “No. His heart’s still beating.” She said, “Honey, that’s your heart.”
The amazing thing was that later, when Mom and I talked about it, I said, “He looked” and then we said at the same time, “like he’d won.”
He needed me to say it was ok. He needed me to say Goodbye.
My friend needs that now. Saying Goodbye absolutely sucks. You feel guilty. You feel a little mean. You don’t want to say, in fact, you’d give anything to not say it. But you have to say it. Because some people stay because they love you so much they don’t want you to have to go through that pain, even when it means they’re in horrible, horrible, much worse pain. Because you love them, you have to say it.
In a different way that should be easier but feels almost at hard, I’m having to say goodbye to the Eldest. I’ve realized lately, bizarrely given the evidence, that the relationship we had is dead. It doesn’t mean that we have no relationship. It means the new one, the one with her as an adult, is being born. I hate saying goodbye to my little girl. But as devastating as it is, I know that I have to in order to say hello to my beautiful adult daughter.
It’s really, really hard. It hurts. But I can’t, out of selfishness, keep insisting that things are the same any more, or that we’ll ever go back to the time when she ran to me as soon as she saw me, when she cuddled up to me and we’d read together, when she’d ask me to sing her just one more song and stay for just 5 more minutes before tucking her in for the night. I loved every minute of those times while they were happening, and they never really go away.
That’s the thing. Goodbye doesn’t mean something or someone never existed. If anything, it means thank you.
Nothing will ever make it less tough. But, said with love, it’s hard to find a word more filled with grace.