I have said goodbye a lot of different ways millions of times in my life, but it is usually with the understanding that it is temporary, I will see them again, and we can pick up where we left off. In my view from the edge, I have learned not to take goodbyes so casually. One too many times, I have said goodbye to a patient, expecting to come back and finish a conversation, only to run out of time. I guess I wanted to save the final goodbye for the end – except no one can predict when exactly that will be. I have had patients who were talking and laughing one day and died the next, while others, who seem imminent, linger on for weeks.
I have come to realize the only moment I have with a hospice patient is now. This translates to a valuable life lesson: take the time to listen and receive what others need to say and say what you need to say, don’t wait to reconcile, say thank you, or tell them you love them – this is a proper goodbye.
Usually, it is the patient who is preparing to leave, and it is my job to be present with them and their family as they navigate this difficult road. But this past two weeks, the shoe has been on the other foot as I visited my patients to say my own goodbye. I am leaving my job as a hospice chaplain to take a new opportunity as a hospital chaplain. I am very excited about this change, but it does not make the goodbye any easier when it comes to my patients.
Each patient, and their family, have carved out a special spot in my heart. These people have allowed me into a very intimate space in their lives as they navigate grief and loss, regret and reconciliation, and all the emotions that come with human relationships and impending death. I have been right there with them shoulder to shoulder.
I am initially anxious as I prepare to visit them, one at a time, ticking them off my list so I don’t miss one; I don’t want them to feel abandoned – I don’t want to feel regret. Each one handles it differently, some cry tears of sadness others rejoice with me, all express their love and appreciation and bless me as I go.
I feel honored and loved for the work I have done and encouraged to go forward to the new place I am being called, fully supported by those I leave behind. What a refreshing, freeing feeling to know I made a difference in the lives of those I leave behind just as they have made a difference in mine.
This is how goodbyes should always be, whether we are saying goodbye at the end of life, the end of a job, or at the end of the day.
As I wrap up my work as a hospice chaplain, I also wrap up this blog: “My View from the Edge: End of Life Reflections of a Hospice Chaplain.” Thank you for following and for all your words of encouragement, I felt heard and appreciated. I am sure I will be starting a new blog sharing my insights and learning from my new role as a hospital chaplain so stay tuned, but for now I will say goodbye.