There are five things, according to Dr. Ira Byock who wrote Dying Well, that can bring comfort and closure at the end of life. In each of our relationships, as we near the end of our days, we may pass through the veil without regret if we are able to tell those we love the following: Forgive Me, I Forgive You, Thank You, I Love You, Goodbye. My study of end of life doula work has opened a portal for conversations with others about their own experiences with death, and I am grateful for these opportunities. There is obviously overwhelming heartbreak involved in each story, but there is also a call to mindfulness, and at times… grace.
But what about the relationships that never have such closure, because those who were departing did not exactly plan to leave their bodies behind quite so soon… or because they were too fearful to broach such topics with those they love? If life is filled with lessons, perhaps unexpected loss is a reminder to each of us that such endeavors need not wait for the clarity of a terminal diagnosis.
Though my parents and I hope to be in each others’ lives for years to come, we have taken time here and there to discuss our thoughts. With their recent update to their “Last Will and Testament” documents, which came with buying a new house up the street from me, Mom and Dad each completed the “Five Wishes” form, which provides a format to help us consider our end of life wishes. A few items for consideration are who can speak for your healthcare needs when you are not able to speak for yourself, in what situation would you deny life-saving efforts, who would you like at your bedside as your spirit returns to its original energetic form (that’s my wording, of course), and how you’d like the body you’ve left behind to be cared for at that time.
As my friend and I connected from opposite corners of the country to discuss her experiences, I shared with her the memory of the departure of a mutual friend of ours in the late 90’s. He was only 32, and though he had a serious diagnosis, a side-door illness swooped in and took him from us with unexpected haste. I can see his final days, dimly lit, in the back of my mind. He had refused to discuss his wishes with his partner, and as we set to the task of planning and arranging his memorial service, the grief seemed greater for the fear of getting something wrong. At the time, my (then) partner and I were only 28, but within weeks of our friend’s celebration of life, we celebrated our own with official documents that stated our wishes should one of us be lost to the other without warning. As for the stories my friend shared with me, she suffered a few tragic losses in her youth, but one that was expected was that of her grandmother. Now, her grandmother had been incredibly mindful of her wishes, and was mostly clear… mostly. She had planned and even executed her entire funerary arrangement… right down to purchasing the flowers for her casket and securing transport of her body from hospital to funeral home. Her loved ones would not need to do anything but grieve at her loss. However, her advance directive left for her doctors to follow was not so clear, and there was some confusion. In other words, if you are ready to go, but you’ve not declined life-sustaining treatment with your healthcare providers (and your health surrogate), they are honor bound to provide them.
I know that the end of life is a difficult subject for most of us to consider, but I wonder if it might be easier to think about it a little differently. You know how it seems to rain when you don’t have an umbrella, and how when you are mindful enough to carry one, no matter how dark it gets the rain never comes? Well, that’s how I see this form of preparation. Not that having these discussions with loved ones and securing official documentation of your preferences will keep the inevitable at bay… after all, it is the one guarantee in life that is presented on the day we are born. But I submit for your consideration that if you have done the work of mindfully caring and sharing your authentic wishes for a peaceful transition from this world to the mystery of what comes next, you will gift yourself and those you love great freedom to live each day fully present. I updated my own documents before my last trip abroad, in case I were to fall off of a cliff in Ireland, and I recently wrote a ritual of departure for such an occasion though I’m not sure of when I will next enjoy such adventure. It was a surprisingly cathartic exercise.
All of that said, I would like to take a moment to tell you that if I have ever wronged you or caused you harm in any way, I am deeply sorry and I hope that you will forgive me. If you ever wronged me or caused me harm in any way, I have come to understand from my own deep regret that such actions likely came through suffering of some kind, and I forgive you. For your presence in my life and for even the tiniest expressions of kindness and care, I offer you my gratitude. For the love that you have offered so freely, not only to me but to your family, your friends, your community, our planet and all of Her beloved creatures… I love you more. There’s one more thing… but I’m not quite ready to say goodbye (I hope). For now, I’ll bid thee hail and farewell until we meet again.
If you are interested in learning more about determining your own advance directive, you can check out this link:
http://www.caringinfo.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3277 , you can also google Five Wishes.