Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Last Words

If you have lost someone close to an illness, you probably had the chance to say your goodbyes, although there were still some things you thought of later that you wish you had said. If the death was sudden, as from an accident, then you may not have had this chance and everything was left unsaid — all the hopes and wishes for the future, all the unfinished arguments, what you loved best about each other, and what tasks the survivor could finish up for the one who was dying.

In either situation, we can find some relief by sharing after the death everything that we wish we had be able to say, and imagine that our loved ones can hear us. Because, you know, they might.

We can also flip this around and imagine the perspective of the one who died, because they had things that they wanted to tell us, too. This isn’t that far-fetched because who they were stays with us, and we have a good sense of what they would say.

My wife Evelyn had been dealing with a number of health matters for a number of years, but she died suddenly of a heart attack when she was in her 40s. We didn’t know there was a problem with her heart, so we hadn’t shared any of the “If something should happen to me” matters. Although I will never know, I’ve wondered what went through her mind when she realized that she was dying. Based on our 18 years together, the following is what I think she might have said.

When they were unable to restart my heart in time, dear husband, a door appeared.

I did not want to leave you, but I could not stay. I could not face dealing with another health problem on top of what I already had.

There was a door, dear husband, and I opened it.

I did not want to leave because I knew that you would be lost for a time, and I would do anything to spare you this. I knew that you would struggle without me. I knew that you would cry, even though you rarely did when I was here. I knew that the rest of your emotions would finally emerge, and I hope that they will stay near the surface. You come alive with your emotions, and I loved seeing that.

There was a door, dear husband, and I opened it.

It wasn’t fair that I died just as I was getting my health back after all those years of struggling with aches and pains that would not go away. It wasn’t fair that you had to take care of me all that time. It wasn’t fair that we never had much money to splurge on life and go on a vacation. There was just so much stress coping and getting through.

I hope that you will prosper now. I hope that you will take time to dance and laugh and go hiking in your beloved mountains. I am so glad that you have nature to help you in this time when I am unable to do so.

I could tell you about where I now am, but I don’t think that anyone could understand without being here. I’ve been checking in on you now and then, and I know that you have felt me close several times. I will continue to do this for as long as I can.

There was a door, dear husband. I opened it and walked through.


  1. I had to witness my wife collapsing, during the last year of the brain cancer, physically and mentally until what was left was just a shell of a woman I loved. How I wish I could hear words from her mouth like what you wrote in the post. I ask her to come to me in dreams and tell me things she could not say. But it never happens.

    1. It is hard not knowing, isn't it. Not only to hear things like saying goodbye and words of comfort, but also of their dreams for us, their wishes. They knew us perhaps better than we knew ourselves, and we would have loved it if they could have pointed us in the right direction one last time.

  2. I love this. It made me cry. It is hard when they die suddenly. Stan had some health problems and toward the end of his life, those were escalating. He was so frustrated and I know he would have hated to be immobile or dependent upon anyone for his basic needs. But I would have been happy to do it for him. I just wanted to keep him with me. Selfish of me. I miss him so much. I think he is probably saying some of the same things to me, too. He could not hike with me and I hope he is looking on me from wherever he is and cheering me on as I walk and ramble in these hills he loved so much. This weekend I am in Whitby, his favourite seaside village. I cried when I came down the hill and saw those wild waves. I like to think he will be rambling in those hills with me, tomorrow. I think maybe your wife walks those mountains with you, too. xx

  3. I think they both walk beside us.