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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Last Words

If you have lost someone close to a disease like cancer, 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, you may not have had this chance and everything was left unsaid — all the hopes and wishes for the future, all the lingering, unresolved arguments, what you loved best about each other, and what tasks the survivor could finish up for the one who died.

In either situation, we can find some relief by sharing with them now, after the death, everything we wish we had been able to say, imagining that our loved ones can hear our words.

Because, you know, they might.

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

My wife Evelyn had been dealing with a number of nagging health matters, 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 had any of the “If something should happen to me” discussions.

Although I will never know for sure, I’ve wondered what went through her mind when she realized 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 devastated and 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. Thank you, Mark! Beautiful and hopeful piece.

  2. I have just discovered your work and I am grateful. Your voice is compassionate and deeply wise. Sudden death is a beast. It's been over 2 years for me and I am reeling somewhat still. Yet, the other piece you wrote, about an approximate ' timeline' really is true for me. So helpful, I wish I had read it sooner, but we find things as they find us. This is a beautiful piece, and very touching. Thank you for writing.

  3. Thank you, Alice. I appreciate hearing when something rings true for someone else. Yes, sudden death is a beast. I'm sorry that you have to go through this.