The Farewell—Love, Thanks & Forgiveness
Why you should always grab the chance to say goodbye before a family member passes — even if you don’t get along!
When you wake to three missed calls from your father and a text message from your brother saying “Dad’s trying to get hold of you, can you give him a bell?” without explaining why…you know something’s up. So, that was my morning, and a return call to my dad confirmed my worst suspicions: my granny had suddenly passed away.
Divided by distance and difference, my granny and I weren’t especially close, so I don’t seek sympathy here. Our relationship was the antithesis of the bond I shared with my mum’s mum before she died almost six years ago, just as both ladies were opposite sides of the grandmaternal coin.
One (Morag) was a jolly, warm, kind woman, described by my great uncle at her funeral as having “an innate goodness.” And that she did. She helped raise me, would never let me turn down a good feed, and stuffed cash in my pocket whenever I wasn’t looking. Always in her trademark gingham “pinny” and never without a smile, I considered her as much a mum as my birth mum, and not once did we cross swords.
The other (Amelia) didn’t lack warmth and kindness per se — she simply showed it differently, in a measured, inherently British way. A nurse in her heyday, she was a slender, old-school matron type who wouldn’t suffer fools gladly, and you were best not to vex her. She once barked at me for limping after impaling my foot on a fence:
“It’ll never heal if you limp.”
I’m not so sure, but the intentions were good regardless.
Even though my relationship with “Milly” (as her best friend Tilly called her) paled in comparison to my bond with “Big Mo” (as my grandad called her), I am, of course, still sad. I’m human, and a loss is a loss. I mostly feel for my father, who was incredibly close to her, not only because his mum just died, but also because she died alone. And that, I’m certain, will impose a nasty sense of guilt on him.
I can only imagine what it must be like losing someone so special without the chance to say be seeing you, and it’s far from a fun thought. I had time to prepare for Morag’s death, and although it hit me hard when it eventually came, a teary farewell somewhat softened the blow. The gift of goodbye is not to be underrated, as you’ll know if you’ve seen Lulu Wang’s poignant comedy-drama The Farewell !
As if the finale of a TV series unrenewed for a further season, a goodbye gives us the opportunity to wrap things up as best we can, albeit it in a limited window. However, a limited window is better than no window at all.
During that window, as those we care for near the end of this life, for the very last time we hold onto their hands and look into their eyes and kiss their cheeks and embrace their bodies and take in their scent.
As we alleviate fears, promising a better place, we express our love and thanks for everything they’ve done and for the mark they’ve made. We show regret for the hurt we’ve caused and forgiveness for the hurt they’ve caused.
And then, in some cases, as we watch through bleary eyes, one last breath and their soul slips off into the beyond, leaving nothing but the cold, blank corporeal behind. And what a gut-wrenching experience that is, let me tell you.
Amelia would have preferred others over me at her bedside in those final moments. I’m certain of that, for the last time we met, four years back, she told me candidly that her connection with my cousins mirrored my own with Morag. So, I’m not really upset that I wasn’t there, as I was with my other granny, just that nobody was there — nobody other than healthcare staff, anyway.
Even so, I’m quite disappointed in myself as a grandson. In recent years, I became estranged from my granny. While it takes two to tango, being the more mobile and techy-savvy of the pair, it was probably easier for me to lead. On my last visit, as I pulled on my coat, she said something I’ll never forget:
“It was nice getting to know you a little.”
That declaration made me sad because those aren’t words a person should hear from a grandparent. After that, I promised to visit more often, but being the eternal flake that I am, I ultimately failed to keep the promise. And now she’s gone, I shall pay the price…you mark my words!
If your relationship with any later-years relative is strained, I’d urge you not to make the same mistakes as me. If you can stomach it, take the high road and reach out, even if merely briefly — it could ensure you’re not saddled with guilt once they’re gone.
I truly believe my goodbye with Morag helped me move faster through Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief, especially the first: shock and denial. There was no struggle to absorb what happened, leaving me perfectly capable of accessing my emotions and crying my heart out. The grieving process here won’t be nearly as intense, but it’ll be interesting to see how I respond to Amelia’s death in days to come.
Today has thus far been a rollercoaster, evened out by the distraction offered by this blog, but with that over and every commitment postponed, I can now sink into the sofa with buckets of tea (the British cure-all) and let Gilmore Girls (the American cure-all) consume me. The healing powers of hokey television are just as strong as end-of-life farewells, so I’ve heard.