Giving Permission to Let Go When a Loved One Is Ready

March 31, 2023, Counseling & Support, Hospice

Giving Permission to Let Go When a Loved One Is Ready

My grandfather was tough. He was many other things, too – hard-working, ingenuous, and fiercely loyal to family, to name a few of his many extraordinary qualities. But his toughness – his mental and physical capacity to endure privation and pain and keep on going – was, as the saying goes, off the charts.

The stories I could tell to support this claim are too many to include here. In fact, I could write multiple books and run out of pages before running out of accounts of his strength and perseverance. But I do want to share two of them with you – one of them being of particular relevance to hospice care.

First story: During a pitched battle in World War II, my grandfather suffered a grievous shrapnel wound, like so many of his fellow soldiers. He had to lay on the battlefield and wait to receive medical attention, holding on stoically, until the fighting subsided. When he did finally make it to the hospital, doctors determined they couldn’t safely extract the ammunition shards from his body. He carried it inside him for the rest of his life, forever touching off metal detectors and confusing those who operated them. This amused him endlessly.

Second story: When he was confined to “hospital bed” again many, many years later, this one in our home as he received hospice care while dying of cancer, he again held on stoically. Day after day, he defied doctors’ expectations that he would pass away within hours, if not sooner.

It turns out, he needed permission from his family to let go. He died peacefully very shortly after receiving it.

I’ve learned from the extraordinary team of bereavement counselors here at Gilchrist’s that this experience is quite common. Here’s their advice.

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye and giving permission to let go when a loved one is ready can be important steps in life’s last journey. It can be very difficult to give your loved one permission to let go. A person who is dying can try to hold on – even when this may prolong discomfort – until family members and friends have reassured the person that those who will be left behind will be alright.

There are many ways to give permission and say goodbye. Holding hands with your loved one or, if it will not cause them discomfort, laying next to them can be soothing. Tears are a normal and natural part of saying goodbye. Tears do not need to be hidden or apologized for. Tears are simply a physical expression of love. Your tears may, in fact, give others permission to release their own pent-up emotions. Tears can sometimes bring a sense of release and relief.

When saying goodbye and giving permission, you may wish to share treasured memories or recount favorite stories. Giving permission to let go and saying goodbye may be as simple as saying, “I know you have to go, and it’s okay.”

Gilchrist chaplains and social workers are here to assist loved ones, if they need or want help, with the process of giving permission and saying goodbye.

Be gentle with yourself and always remember, the gift of your presence and your love is beyond measure. If you would like to learn more, click here.

Mark Cheshire is Gilchrist’s content manager.

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