Episode 37: Closing the Books
In this episode of Living With Hospice, Mitch addresses the many facets of 'closing the books' at the end of our lives, including practical planning, reviewing the bucket list and the often uncomfortable topic of saying goodbye. While this can be an emotionally difficult period, it can also be empowering and is crucial in gaining closure and gathering a sense of peace.
"Also part of closing the books, for someone who's dying, is to say goodbye. Saying goodbye is one of the most difficult things we ever do in this life...It's so difficult that we often chicken out and in that, we miss a blessing."
We've all heard the expression, I lost my loved one or a friend and didn't get time to say goodbye or close the books, so to speak.
Hello, I'm Mitch Ware for Living With Hospice, and today we're going to look at preparing to die peacefully without any unfinished business. There are cultures where saying goodbye and sending a loved one off to the next world is a series of very big and quite significant events filled with tradition, and reverence, big gatherings, big meals, people come from far and near ceremonies that well, you know, the whole shebang in our society. Well, we don't typically do very well in this endeavor. Oh, we do great in holding funerals, and memorial services and events after the fact. But we don't really know how to prepare ourselves and our loved ones for death as it relates to taking care of unfinished business. And it's ironic, as we deem it a blessing to be able to say goodbye, as well as settle any differences or clear the air so to speak, before someone passes away, yet, many of us back out if given the chance.
Why? Well, it's death. It's too uncomfortable. I have to be vulnerable, and I'm not comfortable being vulnerable. We're just willing to let bygones be bygones and let the chips fall as they may, they'll understand it is all good. And this applies to those who are dying too. They find reasons not to engage in this as well.
You know, in other cultures, part of the getting ready to die process is giving things away, bringing people in and presenting them with your precious belongings, or, at the very least giving them some sage advice. This is not so much in our culture. When all is said and done, it really is important to get closure for all parties concerned for a few very, very good reasons.
First, for someone who is at the end of their life, they want to pass away with a clear conscience. For someone who is at the end of their life, they want to be able to clear the air on some misunderstandings or disagreements that now seem pretty trivial and petty. And in fact, a lot of times, people don't remember how these disagreements got started, and maybe it should not have been a problem to begin with, but it became one. Can you relate to that? I know I can. Doing this helps those who go on living by freeing them of guilt or ill feelings. And for those who are about ready to pass through into the next world, they can do it with a clear conscience and with peace.
Part of closing the books relates to having one's affairs in order. Now, this takes a huge burden off of family and friends that are left behind. Many people have a will, but not nearly enough. And the few that do sometimes need to update that and they think "Well, we're good to go with how things are." But then after the fact, that leaves the family and friends to figure out the rest. For example, funeral arrangements, contents of the obituary, coordination of a celebration or a wake and maybe even having to go to probate court and straighten out some misunderstandings or some things that aren't quite right. It can turn into a hot mess!
Closing the books, as one approaches the end of their life - to give that person the opportunity to give forgiveness to render forgiveness that had been previously withheld to heal wounds and ensue, over misunderstandings - is worth its weight in gold. Closing the box, as one approaches the end of their life, allows that person to literally gift precious possessions in person and allows the recipient the blessing of being able to say thank you. And most of the time, that opens up conversation into other areas. Like, thank you for that time when you took my car keys wouldn't let me drive home after I'd had a few too many. Or thank you for telling me to straighten up my life and keep me on the straight and narrow. Now look, I'm married. I have two beautiful kids. You can see where this is going. This opens up these types of little meetings that start out simple, can turn into something really wonderful. Something that will last you a lifetime and render peace in your heart that you otherwise wouldn't have.
Also part of closing the books, for someone who's dying, is to say goodbye. Saying goodbye is one of the most difficult things we ever do in this life. In fact, I really don't like saying goodbye. I kind of take after my father in law, I'd rather say ""See you later" because it is a "See you later" situation. It really isn't a goodbye. It's a goodbye for now maybe. And, you know, just saying goodbye in itself is difficult. In fact, you know, it's so difficult that we often chicken out and in that, we kind of miss a blessing. I've been guilty of this as it was just too hard and uncomfortable. Now I know how to do it, and why it's so important for myself, and for my friend or loved one.
You can find out more about how to say goodbye in our episode titled "How To Talk To Someone Who is Dying" Remember, when we lose someone dear, getting closure helps us move on in a healthy way. I know I have a regret with one of my wife's grandfather's when he passed away. I didn't take the opportunity to go see him when I could have right before he died/ It was just too uncomfortable. For me, that was a lesson well learned. One mistake that I never repeated.
You know, it's dawned on me that closing the books, from a patient's perspective is really the same as the perspective for a family member or a friend closing the books. It yields the same results. The problem is both of us, our loved one who is in the 11th hour, and we as family or friends or caregivers, we're just often too scared or maybe too uncomfortable to take the initiative to do this. I know I can relate to that earlier in my life. As I just mentioned, I've since worked on that and I'm glad I did.
I have a longtime, really dear friend that I really respect and really admire. Unfortunately, he and I don't see eye to eye on many things like religion and parenting and politics and in the like. Yet, we've remained friends for decades, even though we don't have those things in common. We do have other things in common that we really enjoy. During one of the recent elections, I said something that he took issue with and we kind of cross swords. We both scored some pretty bloody passes with our words and you know, they say words hurt more than fists. Boy, that's true. Anyway, it left us unsettled for months, and months.
After my son died, I had several revelations about the importance of life and relationships. I've been missing my friend, from time to time all these months since our dual of words. And when I would bump into him, we just never mentioned it. But upon my reflection of what is important in this very short life we live, I decided I needed to take the initiative to mend this wound. The next time I ran into him, without a "Hello" or "how are you" or "What's up", I walked up to him and said, "I need to apologize to you, brother. I'm very, very sorry for what I said months ago. I offer no excuses. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me."
He looked at me and then back down. (He was finishing up some woodworking.) And it seemed like hours, but it was really maybe 15 seconds or so. He looked back up at me, looked me right in the eye and with tears in his eyes. He extended his hand and said, "Apology accepted. We're good." I can't tell you how good it felt to have that resolved. You know the old expression, "I had a burden lifted off my shoulders?" Well, I had a huge burden lifted off my shoulders, even though he contributed equally to this little feud that we had. When I apologized, I felt so relieved. Especially when he accepted it. I didn't need for him to apologize. It just felt great.
This situation was not an issue that I thought about very often. This wasn't something that came to mind every day. However, it was a huge issue in my subconscious and I wasn't really aware of that. In the back of my mind, it just laid there, just festering. And I carried that guilt and anger, without realizing it, for months. I'd lost my relationship. I was in the grieving process. So when I finally got all the way through that process, and I got to the acceptance part was when I realized his relationship with me is too important to lose it. I wanted to close the books on this disagreement and this disharmony. I wanted my buddy back. So, I stood up and I apologized. Like the prophets and the poets and philosophers and the therapists and the ministers and even grandma tells us, "When the opportunity presents itself, we should willingly and gladly give forgiveness and ask for forgiveness. Even if we're not the person that was wrong." And and you know why the words of these folks, these prophets, poets, philosophers, their Harper's ministers, and Grandma, are still circulating in our society. You know why? Because they're true. Trust me, the burdens of the world seem lighter, the air is sweeter, we have a spring in our step we didn't have before you even if we're bedridden, we feel lighter. We have a peace in our hearts, and our minds, where there used to be guilt and stress. And some of this we didn't even realize we had, it was laying back there in our subconscious.
Even still, there are many people, who would rationalize their unwillingness to engage and seek closure, we have to stop looking backward, and look to the future instead. And we tell ourselves, "If I do that, I'm contributing to not only my awkwardness and discomfort, but their's too. They don't want me to come in here and apologize or say, hey, you wronged me or, you know, whatever this whole big bag of emotion is that you're running around in your brain right now. This isn't something I should do."
Well, I hope you can see the shallow selfishness. And that perspective, it's too common. We rationalize away our real need to get closure. Hopefully, after you've heard this episode, you can overcome that and help others overcome that.
You know, closing the books can take on another form too - not just dealing with relationships, but dealing with things that need to be done, and things that we want to do while we can. As mentioned before, everyone needs to have a last will and testament, a trust or something set up to take care of all of your financial and earthly affairs. We also need medical directives and all of our end of life, things in order. These are all things that need to be done, like making plans for things that you normally take care of like house maintenance, finances, car maintenance, all of that stuff. But it can also mean dusting off the old bucket list, making those plans to close the last few chapters of one's life with activities that you've always wanted to do, but for some reason, haven't. The bucket list, I guess it terms been around for what a decade now. After the movie came out, which was a big hit, and you know why it was a big hit, because people can relate to it. When asked about regrets, many people at the end of their lives have confessed to me that they wish they had traveled more, or they wish they'd taken more risks. They wish they'd worried a lot less or given more of themselves to a special cause or, or causes or relationships been more involved and more present in relationships or whatever.
My parents were always talking about how cool (my term, not theirs) it would be going to the Holy Land in the Middle East. For some reason, they always put it off. My dad worked his whole life. He didn't know how to recreate, he just worked. When he came home, he would go out in this huge garden that was big enough to feed the Seventh Fleet and there were only four of us kids. But he, you know, he didn't know how to recreate, he just had to work. He was always working, or eating, or sleeping. And after my dad was diagnosed with a terminal illness, he was still not willing to go. He said, it costs too much. He said he didn't really have the time, you know, a trip together, just the two of them, my mom and my dad in the autumn of their lives, seeing something that was so very meaningful and powerful to them, would have been a huge blessing for them and for us, as kids. This is something the whole family would have cherished the rest of our days and I really regret for them that they didn't do it. After mom passed away, we realized they had the money to do it and they had the time to do it. But they didn't. In part, I rationalize, it's because they were products of the depression and people that lived during the Depression and through the depressionwhen things were very tight, they just saw that as a luxury they couldn't afford. So, they just never did. Even though for us looking at it, they certainly had the time, they certainly had the money, and they certainly could have done it. Who knows- maybe my dad would have learned how to how to relax and recreate a little!
As we wrap up today, why do we need to close the books? It's awkward, it's scary, it's uncomfortable. At least that's how we perceive it to be in on this side of things. But typically, it isn't when we do it. And it helps us mentally with closure. It helps our loved one who's about to pass away with closure. It gives everybody comfort. Closing the books helps everyone with their grief cycle journey. It helps us get balanced emotionally. Closing the books will yield peace of mind, not only for you, not only for your loved one, but for the family. You'll be so glad you did. If you do that, just take that one step and do it.
Well, it's about time to close the books on this episode. We really appreciate your time. And we'd like to encourage you to subscribe to our podcast so that you don't miss any episodes. And you can also share the link and pass it on to your friends who are in a hospice situation or maybe looking at a hospice situation. Our website is www.livewithhospice.com. Don't forget to click on the subscribe button so you won't miss any episodes. Also, you can leave questions and comments there. Please do because we love hearing back from you. We enjoy reading all of your questions and comments and we do throw those in from time to time and in our episodes. Thanks again for joining us. This is Mitch Ware and it has been my pleasure and a real privilege to host this episode on closing the books for Living With Hospice. Until next time, have a blessed day.