Saying Goodbye, Part 3
I realize on a very deep level that dying is the most important act of living. It involves a choice to bind others with guilt or to set them free with gratitude. Henri Nouwen
The five things we should consider saying to those we love before they or we die are: please forgive me, I forgive you, thank you, I love you, and goodbye. Last week I discussed the elements of forgiveness, both in its seeking and offering. This week I will reflect on the other three statements. The statements build on each other in that the degree to which forgiveness has been offered and received significantly impacts the degree to which our gratitude and the depth of our professed love is received by those we love. In other words, forgiveness should be dealt with first, whenever possible, even though the forgiveness discussions may be longer and more difficult than the others.
Thank you. We usually assume we express our thanks to others more frequently than we do. We may assume that because we feel gratitude in our hearts for anther’s actions toward us that they just naturally know how thankful we are. This is not a reasonable assumption, particularly as our earthly relationship nears its end. There is a sense in which saying “Thank you” makes us vulnerable. If we acknowledge something nice someone has done for us we may feel obligated to do something equally nice for them in return. If we feel incapable or unwilling to match their generosity it may be easier to simply skip giving overt thanks and assume the other knows how thankful we are. In truth, however, we never really know how we are received by another unless and until they tell us. Particularly as one of us nears death, expressing our thanks for who they were to us as well as what they did for us is an important piece in bringing closure to this phase of a loving relationship.
I love you. In many budding romantic relationships, it is difficult to know when and under what circumstances to tell the other “I love you.” Certainly not on a first date and probably not on the second or third. Blurting out the “L” word too soon makes one sound shallow and impulsive. Confusing love with fondness or with lust is always a danger in relationships. Of course, not using the “L” word soon or frequently enough can leave the other wondering about the depth or sincerity of one’s feelings about them. Jesus used love in a much broader, more inclusive sense than the exclusive way we tend to reserve it for. He told us to love everyone. For him, love was not a feeling. Love was positive action for the benefit of another.
These two different senses of love imply two different ways to express our love to those we are in close relationship with when they or we are near physical death. Certainly, we do not want the depth of our fondness or feelings for the other to be left unexpressed. As with forgiveness, there is a hard stop on our ability to verbally express our love for another face-to-face when one of us is near death.
Expressing our love for the other needs to be both verbal and action-oriented. We should leave no doubt in the mind of our beloved of our affection for them, and we should do what we are able to make their final days with us as comfortable as possible. In the wise words of Henri Nouwen, we can either “…bind (them) with guilt or set them free with gratitude.”
Goodbye. We cannot know what, if anything, will become of us after our time on earth. I have provided much speculation in previous reflections, but it is just that — speculation. I believe that the energy field that has embodied itself into what I call me will continue to exist, as will the energy field that has embodied as you, although it will be in a different way and in a different body. Regardless, saying goodbye to those we love on earth is an important piece in bringing closure to the loss of a loved one. Seldom is it appropriate to simply say “Good night” or “So long” when a loved one is about to embark on a lengthy journey. Rather, we say “Goodbye.” We do not know when or if we will meet again, and goodbye honors and brings closure to what has been, even as it looks forward to what is to come.
This is the 54th in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.
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 Henri Nouwen, You are the Beloved, The Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust, Convergent Books, 2017.