Final words. I hear a lot of clients tell me, when recounting the loss of their loved-one, what the last thing they said to each other was. Sometimes, this causes unwanted emotions of guilt and regret. Why didn’t I tell them I loved them? Why was I distracted? Or rushing? Or snappy? Or it could be the other way round: They were off with me and I didn’t make allowances. I rose to the bait. I didn’t take the time to smooth things over. Let’s address these issues.
Imagine it’s the other way round. Something happens to you. They are left behind. How do you wish to be remembered by them? For the last thing you said or heard from someone? No. Definitely not. I have close friends and family members that sometimes tick me off. And I have no doubt that sometimes I tick them off, too! That’s ok. That’s normal. All relationships require work. If something happened to someone I love, yes of course I would have regrets. I would feel guilty for past transgressions and oversights. I’m not denying that; it’s an unpleasant fact. However, in the same way, I have to acknowledge that, if something happened to me, they would have their own similar regrets and guilt-trips to ponder. Because we were close. And because nobody’s perfect. This is a normal stage of grief. But you move through it. You remember the good things, the shared experiences, the bond. The bigger picture. That’s what you hold on to.
When it comes to assessing your relationship with someone, you are probably not exclusively thinking of the most recent words exchanged. You look at it as a whole, over all the time you’ve known one another, and your feelings towards that person.
If you’re in a relationship where you’re always on your best behaviour and super-polite, then the chances are that you are not, in actual fact, very close with that someone. They don’t know you intimately. It’s like when you’re first dating, compared to living together. There’s a difference in what you choose to reveal.
When I die, a fervent wish is that I am remembered by my loved-ones over the whole span of their having known me, and not the last exchange. Not necessarily even the last weeks or months. Particularly considering that when I’m unwell and in pain and discomfort, I am not myself. I am distracted, short-tempered, even more sarcastic than usual, and generally not the sparkling delight I am when I’m well. I also look different. Fluid retention and medications can mean that I am bloated, waxy-looking, wearing only what is comfy, not styling my hair, and in a less than flattering slump on the sofa. Not exactly the keepsake photo I want on my Orders of Service. You get the idea.
Most of us don’t have the dubious privilege of knowing exactly how or when we are going to die. Even if you do know you’re poorly, things can still change quickly and unexpectedly. I lost my mother over twenty-one years ago. Yes, I do happen to recall the last thing I said to her. It was unremarkable. And when she first died, I would think of her in those last weeks; ill and exhausted. However, over time, I was able to move past those painful memories, and now, when I think of my lovely Mum, I remember the vibrant, cheerful, colourful, busy, and very kind woman that she was. I look back on photos of her over all stages of her life. I think back to special moments when I felt the fierceness of her love. If you’ve recently lost someone, it will take some time, but you’ll get there, too. Those painful days won’t always stay as sharply in focus. Be patient.
Lastly, remember that we are all multi-faceted. Like a precious jewel, we all have many sides to us that, together, reveal the light within. If I asked everyone who knows me to describe me, each person would be thinking of a slightly different version of me. We are all different people to different people. Every relationship is unique. Gather stories from others, if you can. It helps to collect the puzzle pieces and reveal a fuller overall picture.
If you feel you need an action to help you move forward, then writing them a letter can be healing. This can then be left at their resting place, or burned, or buried, or simply read aloud to them. You could type out a text or email that you do not need to send. Or you can simply speak. In Japan, they have the Wind Phone; a white telephone box that holds a disconnected rotary dial telephone, for those wanting a one-way conversation with a deceased loved-one. It has received over 30,000 visitors. At the 2019 Grand Canyon Star Party, an old rotary phone was left on a table under the stars. Visitors could dial S-T-A-R and leave a recorded message for a lost loved-one. It is completely natural to still yearn to speak aloud to someone you miss, to want to tell them things, and to say their name.
Please don’t worry about what the last thing you said to them was. Or your final encounter. Just as you wouldn’t wish them to, if the tables were turned. Should something happen to me now, and I had just had a tiff with my spouse, or teenager, or sibling, or friend, I sincerely hope that would not add to their pain. I would want them to know that it doesn’t matter. That I know they loved me. That I’m so grateful for them and all the ways in which they added to my life. So please, recall the relationship as a whole. What they taught you, how they influenced you, and what example they leave. And remember them with gratitude and love.
For the personal touch, get in touch.