A Letter to a Young Friend whose Loved One is Dying

Dear young friend,

I do not pretend to understand how you feel as you navigate the news of your grandmother’s cancer returning. Staring down the grim and unavoidable conclusion that the woman who raised you likely only has months left on this earth is a situation that I have also faced. Those of us who’ve been there think we know what it’s like and of course we do– to a certain extent. Even so, this is a deeply personal journey and no one can really know what it feels like. No one else can live your truth.
I understand the push-me, pull-you of wanting to flee the situation and wanting to stay. I understand running away and being angry at pursuit and feeling bereft if no one follows. I understand wanting someone else to be in charge, and not wanting to let go of an ounce of control. I understand the pain of “please don’t leave me” and the resentment of “how much longer must we all suffer this?” I even understand the false dignity of taking the stand that no one could ever understand you, that you are above all this, serene, secure, untouchable.

You don’t need or want my advice, and so I am not giving it to you. Instead, I’m giving it to the wind, where perhaps it will travel to the heart of someone who does need it. Here it is, a list of things to think about which might or might not help.

  • All this is not about you. The center of this drama is the person passing on. This is true no matter how hard the family or anyone else tries to recenter things. You are neither the savior or the monster here. You’re just a girl (or guy) doing the best she can in an awful situation.
  • Try to resolve what you can with your loved one, but don’t expect any bedside miracles. The confrontation or clarity you wanted about your relationship may never come. Or the dying person may have a take on things that doesn’t help you in any way. See the first point for clarification.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat, drink, sleep, go on walks. Listen to your favorite music. Read your favorite books. Watch the best movies. Don’t give in to the desire to spend every second angsting at the passing person’s bedside. This will serve neither you nor them well. If they are the sort of person who wants constant bedside angsting, now is the time for you to learn about appropriate boundaries. Find a therapist if you can.
  • You will live with this time forever. No matter how well or badly you deal with it you will carry this time in a secret corner of your heart. Be your most authentic self now. It will help later. People will tell you to be brave. Nice work if you can get it. If you’re not that person, however, don’t do that person. Do you, as they say on the internets these days.

Godspeed dear one, for no other speed is possible right now.

2 thoughts on “A Letter to a Young Friend whose Loved One is Dying

  1. Oh, Theresa, what a loving, moving, profound letter to a “young friend.” I am not young, but it was a letter to me also, a reminder I will keep always in the sure knowledge I’ll need it again. I regret I didn’t have this tiny piece of paper to hold and read in my own struggles with loss and confusion. Thank you for “giving it to the wind” so I could grab a piece of it as it sailed by.

  2. Thanks ladywinfred. I think that the longer we live, the more that we have to put this stuff into practice. Sometimes standing witness is harder than dealing with our own challenges.

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