The imminent death of a parent is not easy to acknowledge, but there are things that are important for you to say and for your parent to hear while there is still time.
By Vincent Dopulos, MA, LPC, RDT
When an aging parent begins the journey toward end of life we have to acknowledge for ourselves what is happening and say the things that need to be said. What is most important to communicate in these precious conversations? Voicing your feelings of love, any amends you want to make so that there will be no regrets and your appreciation for the kind of parent they have been for you.
You may have said "I love you" a thousand times to them. Whether a thousand or never before, life is coming to an end, and now is the time to speak these words. What is called for here is a clear communication to your parent that you have loved them throughout the years, and you love them right now.
If you are a man facing the loss of your father, please do not let him die without this. It is as much an attitude and a presence as it is a set of words. Say these words with the determination and clarity that men use when they choose to go into battle side-by-side.
We all carry regrets. Some are too painful to recognize. Some are never spoken of. What has happened between you and the parent who is coming to the end of his or her life, that you regret? How healing it might be for the two of you now if that event could be spoken of. Think about what it is that you want to make sure they know. Some event that seemed so important when it happened may have little importance now. If there are any leftover feelings about it, now is the time to let them know you have a free heart and you want the same for them.
If there is anything you want to say you're sorry for, now is a good time to find a way to gently mention that event and say to them simply: You know, I am sorry I did that. Do not explain why you did it or the circumstances or anything about it. Just clearly say: Dad or mom, please know I am sorry about that.
Now is the time to look back and remember the things mom or dad did that made a difference to you. The more specific you can be, the better. Maybe it was the time you dropped the ball at your job and things looked bad for a while. You may have been scrambling hard to get it back together at the time. Maybe you didn't mention it then, but you have never forgotten what your parent said in passing or that mom or dad was the only one who never lost faith in you. You've always remembered your parent saying: Hey, Tom, you're gonna make it just fine. Small thing at the time, but somehow you've never forgotten it. Now is the time to make sure they know that small thing they said or did for you has stayed with you for years.
The death of a parent has a finality that is very hard to bear, but these meaningful conversations will become dear memories that you will have forever.
Vincent Dopulos, MA, LPC, RDT, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Drama Therapist. His private practice in Montclair, NJ works with dying people and their families. He also has a specialization in working with children in both bereavement and loss resulting from divorce. At Saint Barnabas Medical Center Vincent coordinates the bereavement program for the pastoral care department. More information on his training and approach can be found at www.counselingloss.com.