How to Say Goodbye by Nancy Malcolm:
I am unsure of how to tell you goodbye. I’m holding your hand as if you were holding mine back and my breathing has slowed to match yours. I sit as close to you as possible, but I don’t know how to say goodbye. My mind is searching for the right words, but my heart is whispering “don’t go”, “don’t leave me”. I’m at a loss as to how to say goodbye.
Because my mother died when I was so young, I am both familiar with loss and petrified of it. For years, I tried to avoid all funerals except when it was a family member or I sensed that I was expected to attend. Even then, the fear and discomfort I suffered was overwhelming. It brought a flashback of emotions from long ago as if it were a fresh cut. I just didn’t know how to say goodbye or let go of a loved one. It is too much to ask of anyone, really.
How ironic that now I am a hospice volunteer. Ironic? Or is it divine providence?
When I retired, I wanted to volunteer in some way. No matter what I researched or thought about, I always came back to hospice. Even though the thought of it scared me, it also tugged at my heart and settled in. There were trainings and workshops and the many other volunteers who bade me welcome, saying: “You’re embarking on a sacred journey, friend, a chance to walk with another soul toward peace. It will change your life forever.” And they were right.
In my 6 ½ years, I have grown and changed and calmed. At first, my nerves restricted me. I felt that old familiar uneasiness and gut-wrenching clinch when I would begin my shift, but by the end of my visit, I would be at peace. As time went on, I felt my whole insides becoming rewired.
One of my favorite patients still lived at home, when I met him. He was a widower and had round the clock care. The three of us; my patient, his caretaker and I shared many a Tuesday afternoon; peacefully sitting on his patio. If he was feeling good and weather permitted, he and I would stroll around the yard as he pointed out each plant by name. He loved to tell stories about him and his wife gardening together. As time went on, we just sat on the patio, hand in hand and passed the time in silence, only interrupted by the buzzing of a bee. Sometimes, he would look over at me and smile, and on more than one occasion, I heard him say, “I’m going to miss my garden.” “I know”, I said. “I know.”
My hospice patients have become like family, as was the case with a very special woman who I had the pleasure of knowing for three years. Once a week we would get together to visit. She would always be sitting in her chair, knitting or crocheting an intricate project. Over the years she taught me to knit as she also shared stories of her faith and family. Her eyes would light up when I walked into her room and my heart would always be full when I left. We had an unconditional love and respect for one another that comforts me still to this day.
I have been so blessed and fortunate to have spent time, space and breath with these beautiful souls. I’ve learned a lot about life and a lot about dying with dignity and grace.
-I’ve learned that how you live is most likely how you will die.
-No matter who you are; soft, human touch comforts. It tells you, without the need for words, that you are not alone.
I have had spiritual awakenings and unexplainable happenings. I have laughed, cried, loved and felt someone else’s fear. For, after all, we are still ‘ourselves’, even ravaged by disease or weakened with age. We live until we die, in fact, dying is the last act of living.
The beautiful souls I have known through hospice have healed my heart, even as it breaks for them. I no longer am afraid. I no longer resist saying goodbye, when it is time. Because I know, that just as I am saying goodbye and they are gone from my sight; there are other souls rejoicing, as they are welcomed home on the other side.