The Last Goodbye from Palliative Care

My wonderful, generous and loving wife, Rosemary, passed away nine years ago on May 25th, 2008.

Each April since, it has become my custom to think about some aspect of our journey with cancer and to share it with others.

This year my attention keeps being returned to two events that occurred while Rosemary was receiving excellent palliative care at Lisaard House. They occurred 3–4 weeks before Rosemary passed away.

The first event was an invitation to all family that were descended from Rosemary’s parents or descended from my parents. We were pleasantly surprised when 31 of 33 invited people were able to make it.

The second event a few days later was an invitation to the many volunteers who had provided very generous assistance to Rosemary and our family over our battles with cancer, and to good friends from church, work, etc. We wanted to invite more, but had to limit it to the number of people that could be supported at Lisaard House. In all, 39 people came (26 adults, 13 children).

Rosemary really wanted to thank our many helpers and friends, in person, while she still had a bit of strength left. This was important to her.

Some of the people who came to one of these events did visit Rosemary a few more times thereafter, but for most of the 57 adults who were there, this was the last time on earth they would see Rosemary.

They knew it. Rosemary knew it. Everyone knew that everyone knew it.

They had all come to say their final goodbye.

What a very strange, unique, and awkward situation. Yet they were all very willing to do it.

From what I observed, it wasn’t awkward at all. There were stories being told. There was laughing. There were tears. There were hugs… more tears.

At times people socialized in groups and other times people queued up to speak with Rosemary privately or in small groups as she lay in her “bed on wheels” at one side of the room.

She had purposely saved up her energy as much as possible for both of these events. She had a sleep just before each event began so that she might have enough energy to remain awake and talk to people — as she so much wanted to do. (and she was able to do, thankfully!)

As I was socializing and monitoring that everything was going okay, my mind sometimes pondered the question, “What do you say to a dear friend that is dying, doesn’t have much longer to live, and it’s the last time you will be able to talk to them?” What an interesting question…

Some people came from far away. Everyone had about two days notice when invited to the event (health and strength were diminishing quickly at the time). Yet they dropped everything and came to say goodbye.

These were two very meaningful events for Rosemary and I. From observation and comments received afterwards, the events also appeared to be very meaningful for those who experienced them with us.

It might seem like an odd comparison, but after these two events were over they ended up being a milestone for us. Not in an “accomplishment” way, but in a “process of letting go” way.

For those who were able to join us, thank you for helping to make it so special for Rosemary.

A few days later, Rosemary, in her brave, tongue-in-cheek manner, said to me:

“How does one die? I’ve never done this before…”