21 February 2014

Saying Goodbye (No, not me!)

After reading Ron’s compelling piece on saying goodbye to a loved one when death approached reminded me of three events in my life ... and one enormous regret.

My mother was a nurse.  Although she hadn’t practised nursing for many years I reckoned the experience would have instilled in her some commonsense as well as compassion when my father was taken ill. I was wrong. Many years later an item in the press reminded me of her and prompted me to write the following:

A recent court case in this country (see here) concerned a woman who was told she could not visit her 78 year old mother since the old lady had had a stroke and would be unable to recognise or communicate with her daughter. The article went on to say that the daughter was deprived “of the opportunity to speak with her mother before they were separated forever by death”.

This story disturbed me. It took me back more than 50 years, to the year my Dad died. Believe me he was far too young to die and it broke my heart because I had been unable to say goodbye.

When Dad had a severe heart attack we discovered that certain valves in his heart had collapsed. After a period of hospitalization he was given strong medication and sent home with the warning that under no circumstances was he to get stressed. He was to be kept quiet and calm. In those days medical science was not as advanced as it is today so there was little hope he would survive.

I was married and living away, without any access to the house. Mom had taken my house keys the day I left and never gave them back. Consequently I had to knock the door or ring the bell whenever I called to see my father. Mom continued to work, leaving Dad alone in the house.

One day I called at a time when I thought Mom would be at home, only to find a note on the front door which read ‘SICKNESS, DO NOT DISTURB. PLEASE DO NOT RING OR KNOCK THE DOOR.’ The back of the house was also locked and bolted. You can imagine my dilemma.

Trying to suppress my anger I went away to ponder on what to do next. The telephone had been put out of bounds to outside callers because it was felt that Dad might be anxious to get to the phone before it stopped ringing which could cause some anxiety.

A plan was devised. I wrote a letter to tell him that I would ring at a certain time and that I would use a three-ring code so he would know it was me. It worked. Twice.

I expressed my disappointment that I couldn’t just call to see him but all he said was ‘You know what your mother’s like’. I did, I also thought her new rules were way over the top.

As I said above, I managed two phone appointments before he passed away. He died alone and I wasn’t there to say goodbye. Just like the article, it was forbidden!

Even though I frequently told myself that it was done ‘for the best’ I have never fully got over the fact that I wasn’t there for my father. Indeed, no-one was there for him.

Ron’s post covered the importance of saying goodbye to loved ones, both for them and for ourselves. Of course, it can’t always be arranged, especially if geographical distance makes it impossible. However, there was no such thing between my dad and me and that’s why I took it so hard.

Mom when she was young
Mom died in Australia at a time when visiting someone abroad was impossible. In those days there were strict rules about doing so and the cost was prohibitive. In truth I found it a blessing. I had suffered at her hands, mentally and physically, and there was no love lost between us. I have written reams about our poor relationship but won’t plague you with details right now. Strangely enough, she was alone when she died with no more than a solicitor and a landlord at her funeral. Yet she had family out there in Oz, her own and that of her second (newly deceased) husband, who I never met. Speaks volumes, don’t you think?

Dad’s sister, my Aunt May, was more like a mother to me than my own; she was a marvellous cook and a real comforter in times of need, always there for me as well as my friends. If ever we were at a loss to know how to spend our time they would 
Dad and May, long, long ago
suggest we called on Auntie May. It wasn’t a ‘cakes’ thing, although she did feed us like there was no tomorrow, it was the fact that she had time for us, talked to us, did things for us, and always made us welcome. So, when she aged and dementia crept in I was there for her. She and I would laugh about nothing. If I said the house was falling down she would laugh ... because she didn’t understand. She didn’t have the ability to get cross but she knew how to laugh over nothing. She was a tonic, even though she wasn’t aware of it. I would sob when I left the house, knowing that her descent into unknowingness would soon change to a journey to heaven.

I visited her frequently in hospital and when it was time for her to make that journey I held her close and told her that Uncle Ted was waiting for her and that she was to give him my love. I remember she opened her eyes and smiled. Something she hadn’t done in a while. My aunt passed away during the night and I knew ... I just knew. The phone call came early in the morning to break the news. I was so glad that I’d been with her as she prepared to free herself from the restraints of earthly living and go to the place where her husband waited.

Thank you, Ron, for emphasising the importance of saying goodbye to our loved ones.


  1. I am so glad you had your Aunty May Valerie. She must have been a loving Aunty. Sad about not being able to visit your Dad. I can't imagine how it must have been for you. Thank you for sharing this part of your life.

  2. It is so very important to be able to say goodbye to a loved one. I was fortunate to be able to be with both my parents when they passed and I thank God for that. xx

  3. Pearl, thanks for your comment on what I consider to be an important subject.

  4. Valerie, I can't tell you how much this post touched me. Thank you for sharing your feelings so openly and honestly. And you expressed yourself so beautifully.

    I don't think people realize the repercussions that can occur when we are not giving the chance to say goodbye to a loved one, because there is no closure. And like you said, sometimes geographic distance makes it impossible. However, to not be given the chance to say goodbye when distance is not an issue, is just heartbreaking.

    I don't know if you knew this, but I didn't get the chance to say goodbye to my biological mother when I was 6 years old because my father didn't want his children to witness the death of their mother (who had cancer) in ugly way. He did what he did, not out of meanness, he did it because he wanted us to remember her in a beautiful way. He did what he thought was best, so I never held anything against him for that choice, because he did it out of love for us.

    Yet (and I shared this with him many years later), I don't think it was the wisest choice because death is unavoidable, and that it's better to just deal with it than ignore it.

    When he was dying, he didn't want me to know that he had cancer, so (again) he didn't tell me because he didn't want me to worry. However, my stepmother told me because she knew I would want to deal with it by being a part of his death process and say goodbye.

    So I told him very directly that I knew he was sick and dying, and that he HAD to allow me to be a part of it because I needed to walk through his death with him. And he consented.

    Being there for him when he was dying not only gave me the opportunity to say goodbye to him, but it was also like saying goodbye to my biological mother at the same time because the void that had been lingering within me for so many years of not having had the opportunity to say goodbye to her when was a child, was filled with contentment.

    You see, I was able to say goodbye to my father AND my mother, so that everything finally came full circle. I was able to release my mother through my father's death.

    And the reason why I share all this with you is because I think being there for your aunt, was like the same way it was for me and my father.

    Your aunt gave you the opportunity to say goodbye to your father, by allowing you to be there for her during her own death.

    See was a blessing.

    "She was a tonic, even though she wasn’t aware of it."

    Yes, like a tonic.

    Again, thank you for sharing this post, dear lady. Thank you!
    (((((((((( You )))))))))))

  5. Wonderful post, Valerie. And I agree, it is an important subject. On another note, I completely missed this post, as I didn't see it show up in my reading list...just stumbled across it when I was scrolling back through posts. As to your question, you may certainly borrow the photo you asked me about - to show to your friend. And thanks for asking my permission.

  6. Ron, I didn't realise you had been unable to say goodbye to your biological mother and I am so pleased that you were able to do it through your Dad. I'm also pleased that you were able to visit your other Mom when she needed you. Your heart is definitely in the right place, my friend x

  7. Mona, there are a lot of things missing with Blogger at the moment. Thank you for allowing me to show off your picture.

  8. What a lovely and thoughtful post Val. Yes, we should say farewell to our loved ones but they never really leave us. We will all be together again, in another place, some day. I know that without any doubts. I have had many interactions with those passed on, they are not gone, they are just in another place.

    Hugs to you, G

    PS: Your mum's photo is lovely!

  9. ugh, not getting to say hard...and not fair at all...we all need those chances because mourning is so hard as it is...that would make it only worse...

  10. This is your best writing. It is just excellent. As I read it I was over whelmed with feelings of all kinds.

    No doubt many of us can relate to problems with one parent or the other, sometimes both. You told your story so well it made me think about unresolved feelings about my Mother.

  11. Lovely post, Val. Glad you had a wonderful Aunt May to be there for you, and sorry to hear about you not being able to say goodbye to your dad. Goodbyes are important especially if you get to do it. No one is guaranteed a tomorrow even though we act like we are. Take care.

  12. Brian, I know a lot of people can't talk about this subject... I just hope somehow my post will ease that for them.

    David, I hope I didn't raise troubled feelings, but it's good to reflect.

  13. Hi Geraldine. You may well be right. I haven't had that experience but I do believe there is some kind of after-life.

    Mona, I'm glad you didn't miss this post and thanks for giving permission to show your picture.

  14. My Cousin's daughter was visiting us many years ago, when her father died...not unexpectedly. My cousin had her continue to stay with us rather than come home for the funeral....I am not sure her daughter ever fully forgave her for that. It is so important to be able to say good-by.

  15. Indeed. I didn't have the opportunity to be with my eldest son when he passed at the age of 27 at his own hand from the effect of bi polar disease. But then....

  16. Troutbuilder, I am so sorry to hear about your son. I pray to God that he is at peace now and that you have been able to find some as well.

  17. BC, I imagine the motive was well intentioned, nevertheless it was quite cruel. I hope the girl managed to find some peace of mind.

  18. Your story touched on a number of feelings I have had myself, and seen in others. Sickness and death are such unexpected events that I don't think any of us are able to handle them as we expect we might, when thinking of them as things that will either never happen or will happen in some distant future that we can't possibly imagine. I never know how to react to these things, and I never think I react to them "correctly" - but the more I hear from others, like you, the more I realize that there is no correct way to react. Our feelings are just our feelings, and I imagine that you regret not seeing your father more, but if you are anything like I, there would never be enough time to spend with those who have left us. When one of my closest friends passed away a few years ago, I had been planning to see him, and putting off the trip, never thinking that the last time I saw him would indeed be the last time. Regrets can rip you apart, but I hope that talking about them can help mend things. I hope that sharing your story has helped you; it has certainly helped me.

  19. Dear Valerie its really sad that you were not able to say goodbye to your dad..I can somehow connect with your feelings because I was similarly not allowed to say goodbye to my brother-in-law(my younger sister's husband)..whenever I called home everyone said that yes now he is ok, dont worry and I could never make out from a distance that he was actually suffering so hard and was about to family thought that knowing that he was in his death bed I would suffer mentally as I stay far away..but if they would have told me I would have gone to meet him once before his death..and this regret will haunt me life long..

  20. Hi Ranita. That is sad about your brother-in-law. It takes a long time to recover from these things, but I hope you have found some peace in the knowledge that he is no longer suffering.

    Lovely to see you again. It has been a long time.

  21. Nathaniel. I hoped that by sharing the story it would help others. Sharing is equivalent to healing in a lot of cases.

  22. a child I was 'disallowed' to trudge to the hospital with my sister because it was subzero. Seems harmless enough, but when it's the day she dies ... you grow up believing some things that probably just aren't true. I did, and I held on to those things for a very long time. And when your father dies suddenly in the garden at your family home while you were at the state fair with friends...more faulty stuff to believe. I didn't get to say goodbye to either, and you can bet I harboured a lot of resentments with people...and with G-d. Getting to do closure with my step-mother before she passed was a life changing experience. I've been privileged to be there for several others who had chronic diseases, some who had none to be with them, others who had none that wanted to be present for their pending death. I think I've been graced to be used in those situations. They've been cathartic, to be sure. Just as I'm sure being present for your Aunty was cathartic for you. Out of great pain can come great opportunities....

  23. Mel, I am so sorry you had those early experiences. I know we can never make up for the past but we can make full use of the future, and you did just that (((Mel)))


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