It occurred to me that Bryan and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I hear about all these stories of people who are on death’s bed and their family is all around them to say goodbye. Or maybe they bring in each family member, one at a time, for final messages meant just for them, those last words that will stay with those left behind for the rest of their lives. People talk about the comfort they felt at being able to have those final loving conversations.
I didn’t have that with Bryan. Bryan fought all the way up until his body finally gave out. We didn’t really talk about not making it out of the hospital because that wasn’t an option we were willing to face. Only once did Bryan ever saying anything about it. We were in ICU, those last two weeks, and he looked at me steadily and said, I don’t think I’m going to make it out of the hospital. What do you say to that? I panicked. I was afraid that if I agreed, then he would mentally start shutting down and giving up. If I disagreed, then I was afraid of…what exactly? That we would argue? We rarely did that. That he would think I was patronizing him? If I disagreed, then it would involve a response that would have had negative connotations. We were in such a delicate balancing act between life and death. I believe that so much of what keeps a person alive is their will. I wasn’t going to dare disrupt that balance. All I could do was quietly keep doing what I had been doing, provide mental, emotional, and physical support. To be his person. To just be THERE.
I read an article about anticipatory grief which deals with the impending loss of someone. There’s also preparatory grief where the person who is dying is mentally preparing themselves for their own death. When I think back to our last month in the hospital, I think we both were experiencing a bit of that. It was hard because in a hospital, you’re always surrounded by nurses coming in and checking things, doctors coming in with their determination to have a positive outlook. Your brain turns to mush in a hospital so it’s hard to think coherently about what you’re doing in the moment, much less what the future may hold. But I think we were experiencing it in our own way, silently, not wanting to burden the other with thoughts of that dark place.
So what happens when you don’t get to say goodbye? One minute I was holding the puke bag and gently tapping Bryan on the back and the next minute he checked out. He was sitting up, but nothing was happening. They speculated later that he’d probably had a stroke, a result of the crazy amount of blood clots that were forming in his body, more than we realized. I’ll never know if he heard me yelling for the nurses, if he saw me standing there while they worked to stabilize him. His brain was slowly shutting down and I never got to say goodbye.
So here I am, three years later, reading articles about saying goodbye to loved ones, wondering about closure. The sad part about sudden death is the goodbyes that we give are to things that aren’t tangible – the lifeless body, the gravestone. I’m left with the realization that I’m going to have to figure this out because I’m obviously not going to get closure that way. Bryan isn’t going to suddenly pop up next to me on my balcony couch saying, “Hey, pretty thing. We didn’t get a chance to talk about this, did we?”
What happens to us when we don’t get to say goodbye? Well, I guess I just move on. I honor Bryan’s memory, try to live life to the fullest like he did, and learn to love again. Because I think the best way to say goodbye to the love of my life may be to pick up where he left off, and live a life I think he would have been proud of.
Walking with Grief
A Celtic Prayer
Do not hurry
as you walk with grief;
it does not help the journey.
Walk slowly, pausing often:
do not hurry
as you walk with grief.
Be not disturbed
by memories that come unbidden.
and let Christ speak for you
will be resolved in Him.
Be not disturbed.
Be gentle with the one
who walks with grief.
If it is you,
be gentle with yourself.
Take time, be gentle
as you walk with grief.
Oh to have your strength. I don’t know you as well as I’d like, but reading this made me cry like a wreck of a baby. It is my opinion that there is no question he knew you were there at the end of all things I’d this world. There is also no doubt in my mind (for whatever that’s worth) that it will be a glorious day when you break on through to see him again. I’m not a nut job (I don’t think), just know that your journey has touched me immeasurably. God speed, Sister.
Thank you so much for that, Chris! ❤ I think we're all a bit nutty, but it's nice that we can all help each other through our nuttiness in this crazy world. Bryan loved you guys and y'all have been a huge part of our little journey. I'm so glad to have met you.