The final goodbye

Published 12:25 pm Tuesday, January 24, 2023

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The topic of dying and death is not an easy subject to discuss. It’s hard to be the one who must let go of someone whom they hold precariously in their grip, whether it’s your child learning to walk or a very ill loved one whose lifetime is coming to an end. While talking about death and dying might be uncomfortable or upsetting, research shows that having conversations about these subjects within families and among close friends, as well as with our healthcare providers, can help us prepare emotionally for death. It also ensures that we will receive the medical care we want as we approach the end of our lives.


Sadly, most of us have faced loss even as children when a pet died, or we lost a grandparent or other loved one. We all have different relationships with death, often based on our personal experiences, religious or spiritual beliefs, culture, family history and current life circumstances. The one thing we all have in common is that dying, and death will be a significant part of our lives.

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The simple fact is that we’re all going to die and most of us will experience losing people we love and care for during our lifetime. Family members and friends who love the person nearing death may experience that inevitable fact differently. Some may refuse to accept the inevitability of death, while others see it as the better of two choices and be ready to give the loved one permission to die.


In many cases the person dying may be distressed for causing grief for those who love them and receiving their permission to die can relieve their distress. There is a time to give the dying person permission to go, sometimes as an act of great kindness by saying, “You may go when you feel it is time. I/we will be okay.”


How can we know when it’s the right time to give someone permission to die?  Often, it’s the medical situation where the illness has reached its final stages with a loved one who is declining and no longer responding to treatments. The patient’s doctor or a professional from hospice can explain the course that the illness will take and what the stages of dying typically are. Death is inevitable and unavoidable, and often the kindest thing you can do is let go and have the courage and love to give the patient that permission.


Don’t underestimate the power of letting go.  Also, keep in mind that there can be a high price for holding on too long, hoping for a miracle or prolonging the inevitable begging the dying patient by saying, “Stay alive for me.” Your request may cause a terminally ill patient to try to meet that request and prolong death, but at what cost? Will it be another round of chemotherapy on an already weakened body, the pain of multiple last-ditch surgeries, or the emotional weight of leaving a loved one who isn’t ready to be left? All are the price of holding on too long, and that heavy cost must be borne by the dying person.


Sometimes, while excruciatingly painful, the greatest gift you can bestow is to give a loved one permission to die — their way, on their time. Give permission. You can say, “It’s okay to leave, you have nothing more you need to do for us here. Be at peace.” This is the power of letting go.


Ron Kauffman is a Consultant & Expert Speaker on Issues of Aging. You may contact him by phone at (828) 696-9799 or by email at: