Debra Ruder Communications

Writing that matters

Tips for saying goodbye

When I began this blog a little over two years ago, I didn’t quite know where it would lead. What I did know was that I’d collected some compelling stories about saying goodbye to a loved one at life’s end, and others about people who’d missed that chance. My hope was that these stories would spark a few farewell conversations, and help ease the pain for readers who couldn’t say goodbye.

I am so grateful to the friends, relatives, colleagues, and acquaintances who’ve shared their stories and insights with me — and us. Here are some of the tips culled from my posts:

When you want to say goodbye …

  • Know that a goodbye can take many different forms – like a touch or song or building a fire for your ailing dad – and doesn’t have to involve the actual word “goodbye.”
  • Take your cues from the dying person. Some people don’t want to exchange goodbyes, while others welcome the chance.
  • Say “Thank you, I love you, I forgive you, and please forgive me,” as recommended by Ira Byock, M.D., in The Four Things That Matter Most.
  • Let the dying person know how you will remember him or her. You might say, “This may be the last time we see each other, and I wanted to let you know how much you mean to me.”
  • Bring a few photos or other mementos (scrapbook, music, etc.) and talk about them.
  • Collect memories or compliments from the person’s friends and family and read them aloud.
  • Offer to help the person compose a letter to a child or someone else important in his or her life.
  • Give the dying person the gift of listening.
  • Know that there is no “right” or “wrong” thing to say; it‘s a matter of finding a way to express your feelings and, hopefully, allow your loved one to do the same.
  • Remember that saying goodbye can mean letting someone go.

When you can’t or haven’t said goodbye, you might …

  • Attend the person’s funeral or memorial service.
  • Post a comment on a funeral guest book or memorial website.
  • Write a letter of remembrance to the person’s partner, parent, or child –- even if it is well after the death.
  • Do something to honor the person, like continuing his or her work, taking part in a charity event, or organizing an annual occasion (such as a concert) in her or his memory.
  • Recite a poem or prayer in the person’s honor.
  • In the future, say goodbye to someone else who is dying.Develop comforting rituals that continue your bond with the person who has died.