Saying our final Good-bye to a loved-one is hard enough. Not being able to say Good-bye can be agonizing.
This time of Covid-19 has prevented one of the most important natural human yearnings from being expressed: Being with and saying good-bye to a dying loved-one.
What can we do to have a “Loving Good-bye” with our loved ones when we cannot be with them?
3 months ago, this would not be a question. However, for the past 6 weeks it has become a painful question for so many of us. Certainly, for patients and family members, but also for those of us, chaplains like me, who work with dying patients and their families, helping them cope with and help make their final hours with their loved ones more comforting, and meaningful.
Over the years, I’ve received many phone calls to visit a dying patient and their family. And, there have been times that, much as I would have liked to rush to a patient’s bedside, this was not possible. Instead, I guided their family members by phone in saying good-bye.
I offer here suggestions on how to have a phone “visit’, that I have used when extenuating circumstances prevented me and the family from being physically present.
In advance of the “visit”, invite your family members to join you in this “loving good-bye” and set the means (Zoom, FaceTime, etc.) and time frame. Cap the time at 20-40 minutes, depending on how many people will be on the call.
This works with only the family members on the call. However, there may be a nurse or other staff able to help you connect the patient to the call. Even an unconscious patient can hear. At the family’s request, a doctor set up a FaceTime call with me and an unconscious patient; I could see her responses to my words. The Pastoral Care Office may be able to help you set up the call.
You may want to begin the call by everyone lighting a candle in their own homes or looking at a photo of your loved one. Feel free to be creative! Do whatever makes this feel like a special moment.
If your family has a connection to a spiritual or religious path, you may consider beginning and ending the “visit” with a prayer or blessing.
There are 5 categories of “good-bye gifts” that end-of-life professionals consider to be helpful. They can be said out loud by whomever wants to speak or held silently.
- The first is an expression Gratitude. Gratitude for how the patient has enhanced your life. This can include general or specific acts or words, such as “I am grateful for how hard you worked to support us”, “I am grateful for your unconditional love”. Or “ I am grateful for the time you….”.
- The second is to assure them that They Are Not Alone. This may seem strange, since they are physically alone. However, this lets them know you all are thinking of them and that your love is with them.
- The third is Forgiveness. This can be a challenging one. Throughout our lives there are moments when we may act or speak in ways that are painful to others. A sharp word, a teen-age acting out, a fib, etc. Even the kindest of people have these moments. This is the time to ask for and offer forgiveness, even if the patient cannot initiate or respond.
However, there are situations where asking or giving forgiveness is not authentic, because the pain is too deep or unresolved. In this situation, I recommend simply saying “We have done the best we could”.
- The fourth is We Want the Best For You. We Will Take Care of Each Other the Best We Can. This can be very comforting to the dying person who will no longer be able to take care of you. It can also help deepen the family bond and reassure frail and vulnerable survivors.
(Many End-Of-Life counselors suggest saying something in the order of “You can let go now, we will be OK”. )
- The fifth, and final, is You Will Be Loved and Remembered. This speaks for itself.
Now take time to share memories! Laugh, cry!
I hope these suggestions help you find a way to say “Good-bye” that is right for you and your family. No matter how near or far you are from each other and your loved one, your care and love transcend time and space. No matter what!
Rabbi Tsurah August is staff Chaplain for Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia (JFCS). She works with individuals, groups, and families as they face spiritual and emotional challenges due to illness, loss, isolation, or grief.
[April 30, 2020]