Relationships . . . Saying Your Final Goodbye, part 1

Earlier this week my sister, Paula, said goodbye to a dear friend who passed away from a long battle with cancer. Her friend was one of the most resilient of friends during her time with us. Only those who have made the cancer journey could ever understand more fully the depth and courage required to fight the good fight.

No matter whether a person wins the battle here or wins it on the other side, how do you say goodbye to a dear friend? What do you say before they are gone? How has your own life and faith been challenged? How do you share your love and faith while they are still with you?

These are just a few questions that came to mind for my sister as she walked with her friend through the years. Right now, Paula is recuperating from nine long, committed months caring for her friend. Yet, she would be glad to share her thought in the next article. With my sister’s experience being so fresh on her mind and heart, I felt these questions would be best answered by her as well. We will hear what she gained from knowing this special person called, Lydia.

In the meantime, I offer some perspective on my sister’s journey and my own final goodbyes to loved ones over the years. With the question, “How did I say goodbye to my dear friend?”, my sister chronicled many opportunities to say goodbye. In the beginning, Paula hung on to trusting, believing, hoping for a miracle healing. As the months, weeks, and days grew nearer with Lydia becoming more increasingly weak and unable to function, my sister also grew weary and even more sad about the fate of her friend.

For myself, I remember the time caring for my husband’s mother, Mary, as she became increasingly weak from Leukemia in her senior years. I remember my friend, Nancy, fighting melanoma cancer, as I sat by her bedside having chats about family, faith, and friends. During that phase of time for both, I too was trusting, believing, and hoping for a miracle healing. I do know they happen, because I know those who have experienced it. My own journey to wellness also reflects that evidence. Yet, every person’s journey is unique to them in many ways. So, none of us would presume to say goodbye prematurely, that’s for sure.

With the next question, “What do you say before they are gone?”, it seems we tend in the early stages to talk at length with our friend about what she is going through and any resources that may help her. As your friend gets closer to passing, it often gets quieter, and even sometimes, more distant. For some, such as my sister Paula, she stepped right in to be one of the caregivers helping everyone to get along, be practical, organized, and bring some comfort and peace into the situation.

Although not as much as my sister, I too tried to be there for Mary and Nancy whenever I could. My own health challenges during those times prevented me from helping as much as I wanted. Yet, I had many opportunities to tell them how much I loved them, particularly Mary since she moved into our home during her final days.

What do you say in the final days and hours? I remember often repeating to Mary and Nancy  how important they are in my life and how much impact they have had. In Mary’s finals hours, she could no longer speak or be conscious. I simply was there by her side thanking God for her and asking to give her peace in her passing or raise her up on this side of heaven healed and healthy. For Nancy, I wasn’t able to see her in her final hours. Yet, a few days earlier she called to say goodbye and thank me for being her friend. In so many ways that phone call was one of the hardest moments to process. It felt so final, with tear running down my face.

Then comes the question, “How has my own life and faith been challenged?” There is never a doubt that one’s life is forever changed watching and even being present when a dear friend passes away. Lydia was surrounded by many who loved her every day during the final months and hours. Paula was one among the many who loved and cared for her.

I know my life has forever changed because of those dear ones who went on before me. Life has become so precious, and every moment is a gift to be cherished. I’ve learned to love more deeply and laugh loudly in life whenever I get a chance.

Another but surely not the final question is “How do you share your love and faith while they are still with you?” Words to your friend can be comforting and welcomed. However, often when the time is close, words go quiet, understandably. That is when you simply are there loving them. Isn’t that what the heart of faith is all about . . . being there? Being there can means many things. Yet, when you become a caregiver, you step up with whatever is necessary.

The list can be long . . . from bringing groceries, making meals, reading to her, cleaning the house, even washing your friend’s body because she can’t. You do whatever it takes to share your love and faith and in whatever way you can. I have many times watched my sister reach out to help others over the years, including our own mother and other family members. For her friend Lydia, this was a exceptionally special and exhausting time for my sister. Yet, her heart was fully committed to her friend.

In the next article, Paula will share her own thoughts and responses to these “saying goodbye” questions of life and loving a friend. For Paula and the many loved ones who said goodbye, her friend, Lydia, is now free, walking and singing with the angels. And this goodbye isn’t really final for those with faith in God . . . knowing Lydia and her friends will see many again on the other side.