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Coping Without A Goodbye

I knew Mom would die, and I knew I couldn’t prevent it, but the one thing I asked God is that I’d be with her when she took her last breath.

But I was not with her. This hurt as much as the fact that she was dead.

I felt I had devastatingly failed her. And there was no way to apologize. No do over. I balled out my eyes and beat myself up over this “moral failure” for years.

But at least I saw her a few hours before she died.

COVID-19 & Goodbyes

I cannot imagine what it is now like for thousands of people who cannot sit with their parent or another loved one as they struggle to hold onto life. Of the people who cannot say goodbye due to COVID-19 restrictions.

My heart goes out to them. I know how important goodbyes are. To the sick. To the ones who remain to grieve.

Important actually isn’t the word. How about vital? How about essential?

People who have not experienced it or aren’t in the middle of finding a way to say goodbye just don’t know. We will be coping with that lack of a goodbye the rest of our lives.

Some of us will learn to carry it better. Some, maybe not.

Unspoken Goodbyes

Neither my mother nor I believed that she would die that summer night in 2009. I left her home angry because she would not allow me to take measures suggested by hospice via the phone to help her breath better. COPD took her in her sleep.

You better believe I kicked myself a hundred times for not foreseeing her death. For not holding vigil. I picked through all the reasons, all the elements that led to my not being with her.

How can we cope with goodbyes that weren’t said? Goodbyes that were prevented? Goodbyes that were insufficient, vocalized via phone or video conference?

There are several ways to weave through the littered highway of regrets. None of them are easy. Grief requires hard work. And it requires refreshed perspective.

Distanced Goodbyes

If medical personal offer distanced goodbyes, by all means take them. Dial in. Write a letter to be read to a parent by a nurse. Show up at the hospital window.

Consider preparing a script or CliffNotes in advance to make sure you say everything you want to say – though you probably later will think of something else you wish you’d added.

But, as I wrote, this distanced goodbye will likely feel insufficient. We are a social people. We hold hands. We hug necks.

It bites that we also cannot get a lot of in-person support from relatives and friends after the death in this social distancing age. It’s hard to reach out as the one suffering from loss, but as much as possible, do so. Create an online support page in your loved one’s name. Or join one for people grieving.

Photo by Dhivakaran S on

At home, we can light a candle and place a photograph of our loved one on a table. I cannot say if they hear us, but we can talk to them. As a Christian, I don’t believe in seeking out messages from the dead, but I think it is absolutely acceptable to speak as though they may hear us as part of our grieving process.

We can write letters. Save them. Burn them. Or leave them on their grave. We can ask for forgiveness. We can vent and then offer forgiveness. We can thank them. We can say, “I love you.”

Navigating Grief Sans Goodbye

How did I get past what I felt like was a moral failure? How did I navigate grief without a goodbye?

The single most important healing experience for me can be summed up in one word – perspective.

Sometimes when people die, we get mad at ourselves. We didn’t do this or we didn’t say X, Y or Z when we had the opportunity. We hate feeling powerless. We pretend we aren’t. That leads us to condemning ourselves for things that really were beyond our control.

We find healing as we recognize we are fallible. We’re not omniscient (all-knowing), therefore we cannot blame ourselves for making decisions in the past based on knowledge we only now possess. Our parents were fallible, too. Maybe they put us in an impossible situation. Probably not out of spite but out of pain or fear or maybe even over confidence.

To find room to forgive ourselves and our beloveds, we unravel our unique circumstances surrounding illness and death. It may take years, but we get perspective.

In essence, we see what cannot be changed in a new light. We change our minds, and that changes how we feel. We then may be able to say goodbye to their spirits – only to find now we are closer than ever to them because we worked through pain to find a bit of healing.

All goodbyes – spoken and unspoken – are painful. Have you had to face grief without a physical goodbye? Leave a comment about how I can specifically pray for you in this difficult time.

Copyright © 2020 by Toni Lepeska. All rights reserved.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yes it’s terrible not to be able to be with our loved ones, when the end is near. We take a meager solace in the little Time we are allowed with them before the big departure. Strange era.


    October 19, 2021
    • Hi, Floreva. Yes, I see your point. We spend years, perhaps all our lives, creating memories with them, and then at the end, we invest so much importance in the last moments. A strange thing, and yet, so human. Last moments are always esteemed. I do hope you got to have yours with your loved one. And if not, that you can find solace in all the moments before.

      Liked by 1 person

      October 24, 2021
      • Hi Toni.
        I think this time and these times are for us to reach deeper within ourselves and understand more finely what makes us who we become . It challenges our relation to others and our family ties, forcing us to (re)consider them perhaps and how ephemeral all this is. Yes, luckily, I was able to accompany my father during his last weeks (but it was not the virus that took him). Sending you ++++ vibes and peace.

        Liked by 1 person

        October 25, 2021
      • You are deep, Floreva, and that’s good! Thanks much. Good vibes back to you.

        Liked by 1 person

        October 27, 2021

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