The Coming Grief – Leave Nothing Unsaid
As hard as it is to say and hear, we know in the days, weeks and months ahead, we will lose loved ones to this virus. Most vulnerable are our elderly parents, grandparents and those who are medically fragile.
In my work as a hospice chaplain, it has been my privilege to be with hundreds of patients and their families as they lived into their last months, weeks and days of their lives.
When we know what is coming and what to do about it – we are less afraid and our ability to be proactive gives us at least some sense of control in circumstances that seem to be frighteningly out of our control.
Those of us who work in hospice know that we are privileged to be invited into this precious time that can offer growth, understanding and love. From our work at the bedside and in the grief support room, we also know this: how we die matters. A lot.
Recently, a friend who had lost both parents in the space of five years, sent me an email in which he said, “the best advice you ever gave me was to be sure and tell my dying parents how much I loved them, to leave nothing unsaid.” He went on to tell me how his ability to have these conversations held him as he grieved each of their deaths. Of course, he missed them, and he was glad to not have to carry as many painful regrets.
Now, as a nation confronted with this life changing pandemic, we must not miss our chance to tell those we love, how loved they are and how much their lives have meant to how our lives have unfolded. Let them know how grateful we are that the path of their star crossed the path of ours. And, if we have unfinished business, now is the time to talk this through. Now is the time for conversations of both gratitude and reconciliation. Anti-war activist and Jesuit priest, the late Daniel Berrigan put it this way: “First things, recognizably first”.
Another important thing we can do today – for ourselves and for all those we love – is to make sure they know how we feel, and what it is we would choose, about our preferences for care – so that they are able to advocate for our medical choices in the event that we can no longer speak for ourselves. These conversations are a gift for us, and they are most certainly a gift for those we love.
Mother Theresa once described the world’s ills this way: “We have just forgotten that we belong to each other.” COVID 19 is a stark reminder that, as earthlings, we are all inter-connected, that we do in fact belong to each other. Let’s please do all we can to keep ourselves and others safe in these times. And please say to those you love what is in your heart. You and they will be glad you did.
Michael Milward is a hospice chaplain and CEO of Hospice of Santa Cruz County