How do we say goodbye to people in our lives?
As I write this post, my 75 year old uncle is slowly extricating his spirit from his body, his family, and all of his earthly ties. It has been a very full March for me. My Grandmother passed away from old age at 102 and now my uncle. It was a lot easier to say goodbye to my Grandma. She was healthy till the end, and suddenly in the last two weeks of her life, her body shut down and wanted to rest. Her memory was mostly gone, and she gently passed away on Friday March 5.
With my uncle it has been a lot harder to witness his dying process. When we got the call that he was in crucial condition, my Dad, brother, 2 aunties, uncle and I got on a plane and headed for Detroit immediately, expecting to arrive just in time to bury him. Well that didn’t happen so easily. He had a rare form of cancer that has spread all over his organs. The doctors did everything they could but they could do no more. So the advise was to take him home and let him die. But he was not ready to die! He still wanted to fight. His family wanted him to fight. Because no one was ready to let go.
For one full week, I was immersed in witnessing love, life, death, dying, and humanity in action. WOW!!! I have never been so intimate with the dying process before. The courage, strength, love, tenderness, messiness, confusion, clarity, leadership, that it took from all of us to BE in the moment with each other was immense. I witnessed myself being impatient with the process at times, being arrogant and thought that “they”, “he” or “she” should behave in such a way or make such a decision. Then only to admit to myself “what the heck do I know?” It wasn’t my dad, or my lover, or my husband, or my best friend who was dying.
I wonder what it was like to be him in those moments. I can have a glimpse of what it was like to be her, his devoted wife caring for him till the end. But him, I am a lot more baffled. What’s it like to be alive and trapped in a failing body? To not want to leave because he knows how big of a hole he would be leaving in his wife’s life? To be a husband till the end? To still want to see his unborn grandson? to have been afraid of death all of these years and now having to lay there in a hospital bed, and watch death inched his way toward him one slow second at a time for 3 full weeks.
Well Uncle, here’s to you: Thank you for sharing with me your ways of loving, of being a good husband and a dad, and of being a man (with flaws and perfections). You led your life to the best of your ability. I saw you being that proud and arrogant army general in the (Vietnam) war, as a humble immigrant working in a factory when you came to America, then rose to leadership on your own merit, as a protective father doing everything you could to provide for your two daughters, and as a wonderful husband to your wife. I salut you and wish you a soft and gentle exit into the bosom of Buddha. You can let go now. WE are ready to let you go.
I guess the answers to my question “How do we say goodbye to people?” are very simple:
- See them for all of who they are, for the glorious human that they have been to us (flaws and perfections)
- Thank them. Appreciate their intentions and what they gave to us
- And finally bless them and let them go.
There’s more: For ourselves, I believe that we need to:
- Notice our own process in saying goodbye.
- Be gentle and accepting of our humaness
- Find ways to make peace, forgive, and let go.
I believe this applies to the work place, and to both personal and professional settings. I want to champion us to lean in, to not be afraid of tears and intimacy. I think we owe it to each other to honor the person and the relationship (no matter how hard or easy it has been). And finally to let go and be complete with each other. In leadership, the skill to say goodbye is equally important as everything else that we do.