There All Along
If you’ve heard me speak before or read any of my writings, one of the things that I often say is don’t wait for the bedside to “say the things”. We always think we have tomorrow and we can’t predict that – that’s not guaranteed.
I think that, in general, I think we have to let stuff go, right? Not hold on anger and regret so much because those are the things most people take with them when they die. “I should have done this. I shouldn’t have done this. I wish I had said more of this…” and we don’t realize that until time has been taken from us.
When someone is diagnosed with a terminal diagnosis they don’t have much time left. Time takes on a whole new meaning and the fragility of it is made very clear to all of those who love them – that all of a sudden they don’t have as much time as they thought, and that they wasted time.
My brother recently died. It’s been a year now and when he died we hadn’t talked for almost three years. There were some birthday texts once in a while, but the truth of the matter is we didn’t talk.
And I sat at his bedside when he was in the ICU and he was dying. And I told him all the things I wanted him to know: I’m so sorry I allowed the time to go this long. I’m so sorry that we didn’t connect well. I’m so sorry. And I made him apologize, too. Even though he didn’t have the words to use, I accepted his unsaid forgiveness and apologies.
One day he woke up and they took him off the ventilator and he could breathe and he could talk, which was a miracle. And I said, “Ben, did you hear what I said? Did you hear me?” And he said “I’m sorry, too.” Now he died shortly thereafter, but that was my gift.
What I took from that is two things. One, they hear everything that you say. So don’t stop saying “the things” – whether this person lying in the bed has a voice or not, whether their eyes are open or closed, whether they have any physical movement – they hear everything you say. Don’t stop talking to them.
The other thing that I took from this was that I wasted a lot of time. So my advice to anyone in life in general is
Don’t build a stack of regret. Don’t punish yourself with things said or unsaid that you wish you could have done differently. Just start now and do them better. If given the luxury of more time with someone you love, take that time and do it better.
And when you’re getting ready to say goodbye to someone, I think the most important things you can say is, “Thank you. Thank you for loving me. I’m really grateful for the time that I was gifted with you.” You know, I always tell people to imagine that your loved one has a box right there, and you’re going to fill that box with everything they take with them. Share the stories, the memories, the gifts, the songs, the recipes, the things that you love so much about this person so that they can take that with them.
And, you know, tell them, “I’ll miss you.” And maybe let them know that you will be OK. We’re never going to be OK when we have to say goodbye to someone, but by that I mean, “It’s OK. I can do this. I’m gonna miss you a whole lot.”
What They Take With Them
When someone is dying, most people sit at that bedside day after day. And you’ve probably heard this, too: “I got up to get a cup of coffee, or I got up to take a nap or a shower or change my clothes, and they took their last breath when I walked away.” And there’s this feeling of guilt or abandonment.
And I want people to know that from my perspective, I don’t think people take with them who was there at the last breath. They take with them who was there all along.
Because that’s what matters. It’s the time that you do have with them – whether they are sick or not, whether you’re sick or not. It’s the way that you make the time that you have with the people you love the very best that you can, and that you let go of as much negative energy as you possibly can, so you don’t waste time.
If you do that, if you live a life of less regret, I think that when it comes time to say goodbye to someone you love, you know in your heart that they know that, too. So your grief is a little gentler.