When we have the work of saying goodbye to our beloved before he or she dies, we will experience both the crisis and the gift of that extended time. The gift, obviously, is that the beloved is still present, still in the world. The crisis is that so much of the person, and so much of our relationship with the person, has already died. Even before that last breath is taken, so much has been taken from us.
Among the first things to die are the dreams, the hopes, the plans we shared for the future. Even when we still dare to hope for a miracle, eventually we face the shock of realizing that we will not make that trip, we will not share those hoped for moments, we will not have one more ... Our dreams come crashing down on us like an immense weight, suffocating the life out of us. We have begun to grieve.
The next to die are those aspects of the relationship that gave it such richness; intimacy, both emotional and sexual; equality, of energy and enthusiasm; shared day to day experiences; simple phone calls at the end of the day. We grieve to find ourselves increasingly alone.
If the one dying is a friend, there may be a total loss of relationship, even long before death. The one who is dying will have an ever-diminishing circle of caring. They may not be able or willing to see people beyond their immediate care-givers. They may "go home to die," in a variety of ways that excludes us. For any number of reasons, we may not be recognized as part of the inner circle. We experience being utterly bereft and helpless to change that deep lonliness, long before death has occured. We have begun to grieve.
If our beloved has an illness that affects their minds and memories, we lose our relationship in bits and pieces. Shared memories are lost. Names from the present are lost. Names from the past are lost. Our names are lost. A terrible grieving begins. How can a mother forget her child? How can a father not recognize his own son? How can a partner of 30 years not know my name? "Come BACK!" we scream, into the ears of a seemingly deaf universe. We grieve through a thousand goodbyes.