Debra Ruder Communications

Writing that matters

A fathers’s gift

When someone is nearing the end of life, what matters most are not the memos written, the meetings led, or even the money earned. For most people, what matters most are the individuals in his or her life.

“The specter of death reveals our relationships to be our most precious possessions,” palliative-care physician Ira Byock points out in his book, “The Four Things That Matter Most.” Byock urges people at life’s end to express their love, thanks, and forgiveness, as well as to say goodbye.

That’s great advice. But it’s also important to remember that a goodbye doesn’t define your relationship with the dying person; it reflects it. If the conversation doesn’t go as well as you had hoped, that doesn’t cast a negative shadow over your years of friendship or connection. There are also times you just can’t be there to witness a loved one’s death.

Jonathan, a New England school administrator, lost his dad suddenly without the chance to say goodbye. But the fact that they had enjoyed a solid rapport over the years helped him accept his father’s absence more easily. This is how Jonathan described that loss to me:

“My dad was an English professor, and his doctor had just given him a green light to go back to work after heart bypass surgery. He was at New York University Medical Center for an appointment, and he got in his car to head home but realized something was wrong. He pulled over on Madison Avenue, put the car in neutral, and died. He was 56, and I was in my late 20s. It was really tough to not say goodbye, but we’d had a very open relationship.

After his death, I realized how lucky I was to have such a present parent. My brothers and I had plenty of time with him when we were growing up. Although later on we were not in constant communication, I always knew my dad loved and accepted me for who I am, and that his strength was my strength. At the time of his death, nothing was left unsaid –- and what I felt most was thankfulness for having been his son.

Consider this . . .
A goodbye can affirm your relationship, but it doesn’t define it.
Take the time to tell someone how much you care –- while he or she is alive.