The privilege of being able to say goodbye
Jan was married to her childhood sweetheart. She made his favorite sandwich. Was getting ready to leave for his jobsite. So they could have a noon picnic in the car. Phone rang. There had been a work accident. Charlie was dead. Jan never got to say goodbye.
Irene and Paul were both widowed when they fell in love and married. One day he got into his favorite car and headed to the hardware store. Bought a few items. Just a few blocks before he reached home, a novice driver crossed the center line. Paul was dead. Irene never got to say goodbye.
Sharon and her youngest daughter were visiting Seattle. Walking on the sidewalk at 5th and Pike downtown. A driver lost control of his car. Went up onto the sidewalk. Striking mother and daughter. Sharon was dead. Her husband and children never got to say goodbye.
These stories are my clients' stories. They haunt me. And have taught me.
We need to assume that our loved ones will be alive by the time we next see them. We need to be positive. To take life for granted - to a certain extent. Because if we only dwelled upon death and dying, we would greatly diminish our ability to live life fully.
Yet in an instant everything can change.
In the case of traumatic death the survivors not only are grieving the loss of their loved ones. Or worrying whether they suffered pain. The survivors are replaying their last moments together. Maybe they hugged before they parted that day. Maybe they didn't. Maybe they blew kisses. Or quarreled as all families do. Almost everyone wishes they could replay and rewrite that last ending. Hug longer. Kiss better. Smile and not quarrel. Sometimes the wish to change that ending causes great survivor guilt.
On a Monday two weeks ago, my oldest dear friend (from Kindergarten) called:
Liz: did you hear about Bonita.
Liz: I heard from someone who saw something on facebook that she is terminally ill.
K3: I will find out what's going on.
And so, I investigated and eventually discovered that she had been recently diagnosed with the most aggressive form of brain cancer that is known to science. Her best friend Kimber said that Bonita underwent surgery. Had lost significant brain function. Was in a skilled nursing facility in Fairfax Virginia. Awaiting the end.
K3: How long.
Kimber: They say she may make it to Christmas.
K3: I am going to come see her.
K3: I will need to clear my schedule but hopefully in two weeks.
All I could do for the rest of the day was think of Bonita. That night sitting at the kitchen table with Steven, started looking up flights on expedia. Could take a red eye after teaching class Saturday. Get in Sunday and leave Sunday night to be back in time for work Monday. Booked the flight. Messaged Kimber.
K3: I've decide to come this Sunday instead. The sooner the better.
And so, that's what happened. Was able to see Bonita. Hug her. Show her pictures. Kiss her. Sit with her. Help her eat a little. Smile and laugh with her. Hold her hand. Tell her stories. Reminisce. Even though at first she couldn't quite remember who I was.
It was a privilege to be able to be with her one last time. And to say goodbye in person.