Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Bereavement 2: No Unfinished Business

When Debbie went into Saint John's Hospice, she was visited by some friends, but we inevitably had to limit the number and frequency of visits. Her energy was limited, and talking and communication took quite a lot of effort. That being the case, I wanted to ensure that if there was anyone Debs specifically wanted to see, we got it arranged asap. So I asked her if there was anyone she wanted me to get in contact with. "No-one", she said, "No unfinished business. Tell them I love them all." It was such a great line that I quoted it in the address I gave at her funeral.

During the days afterwards, I've begun to realise what a blessing she gave us being able to say that. At an earlier stage,  I recall her saying to me that she didn't think that there was anything significant she felt we needed to talk about, as we had already spent a lot of time discussing the bigger issues - illness, hopes, fears, changes in expectations, and the prospect of her dying. It mean that if the end came suddenly, we wouldn't feel cut off with so much left unsaid or undone.

Likewise, I know Debs got in touch with a lot of people - sometimes people she hadn't had a lot of contact with for a while. She was doing a lot of email and Facebook messaging in that period. Although I haven't read those conversations, I know she derived a lot of pleasure from being in touch with people, and in some cases renewing relationships. By being so pro-active, she actually reduced the likelihood of any of us having any significant sense of regret.

However, over the years in the ministry, I have seen a lot of bereaved people with regrets. Guilt is a common feeling at a time of loss. When I take funerals, I try and find a way of acknowledging that unfinished business, as regret and guilt are normal and familiar parts of the experience of bereavement. So often people say "if only we'd had a bit more time to..." It's very important to reassure people - after all in many cases the person who has died probably wouldn't have been worried. This is especially so when someone dies suddenly. Not everyone has the opportunity to do what Debbie did, and people can be left with no opportunity to tie up loose ends, clear the air, write the letter or pay the visit.

The way things worked out for us was actually quite remarkable. After her diagnosis, we got through a whole set of significant family milestones in 2015 - a wedding, family birthdays (18th 21st and 80th), a holiday, Fleetwood Mac - a concert we had been looking forward to for months, Christmas etc. We even managed a few extras in 2016, ending with a fantastic living room gig by the lovely Yvonne Lyon. When Debbie was first ill, we weren't sure we'd get very far down that list, so we took it a step at a time, trying to make the most of the undefined amount of time we had.

Obviously if we could have extended that period of reasonable health for Debbie longer, we would have done. It's not difficult to write a list of things we had hoped for together, which we had to let go of - ideas about a nice holiday for our silver wedding and early dreams about retirement had to go. But having had such bad news at the start of 2015, it felt like we had had enough time together to feel some sense of completion. We at least finished a chapter, even if the story ended prematurely.


Archdruid Eileen said...

So good of you to share your feelings Mike. And so glad I was able to renew contact with Debs after nearly 30 years. Bless you

Kai Bland said...

Love you both so much. Debbie's mission in death has definitely been fulfilled, and you're doing her so proud, I'm sure Xx

Mike Peatman said...

It's good to be in touch. Debs loved the Beakers too