“It’s time for hospice care.” Those words initially hit like a sledgehammer on the hopes of a patient and their loved ones. Translation: “prepare for death.” Yet what initially seems like the worst possible prognosis also offers the possibility of an incredibly meaningful time because it gives people the chance to say goodbye.
Let’s face it: we’re all going to die. Yes, that inevitability may be decades away, but the reality is that we really don’t know. Ask anyone who’s lost a loved one suddenly. The final conversation haunts people. Often the last words spoken would have been vastly different “if only…”
It’s a great privilege for me to help hospice patients “leave nothing unsaid.” The look of joy on a person’s face when they have signed a letter to a loved one is priceless. And I know what a treasure that letter will be to the recipient in the days to come.
Sadly, some hospice patients are too sick to communicate very much. In those situations, even being able to share an “I love you” is priceless.
Recently, Dr. Ruth House heard about my book after her husband had been placed in hospice care. She downloaded the PDF version and offered to help him write a letter to their son. Unfortunately, he was too weak to do that. But an idea struck her: “why not write a letter to my husband to tell him what he means to me?”
She stayed up all night drafting that letter. And then she read it to her husband. And she read it repeatedly, day after day. Even in her husband’s final days when he seemed to be unconscious, she read him the letter.
Here’s what she said: “Kenneth and I both knew the love we felt for each other. However, your suggestions brought specific examples to mind in a way that lifted us both up and brought us even closer together. It gave us respite from dread of our impending loss; it opened a window on the joy we had taken in each other for so long.”
Please don’t wait to write a eulogy for a memorial service. If you have a loved one in their final days, why not write them a letter and express your love? Tell them what you love about them and why, about the ways their life has made a difference. Take advantage of the long goodbye that hospice care provides.