Excerpt from Leaning Into Sharp Points” Practical Guidance and Nurturing Support for Caregivers.

One of the first things Dean did when I entered his apartment was show me the chair Tennessee Williams sat in when they discussed the state of theater in San Francisco. It was my first visit to Dean as a hospice volunteer for Pathways.

“We were good friends,” he said. “Well, maybe not friends, but colleagues. I’m sure if he was still alive he would be at my good-bye party.” Dean was a well-known actor in San Francisco and dying of liver cancer.

He told me about a huge affair being organized by friends, colleagues, and the many fellow actors he had helped throughout the years. “Why should my friends celebrate my life when I’m not there?” he asked. The planning started when he received a terminal prognosis. Because Dean had been an actor for sixty years, the event had to be choreographed as meticulously as if it were opening night on Broadway. And of course, he expected me to be there.

One week later I entered the lobby of a theater in which he had often performed. After elaborate trays of food and many glasses of champagne had been served, his closest friends went to his side and told him how much he meant to them, and how he had contributed to their lives.

Most were local actors, but a few I recognized from films and television. There was weeping throughout the conversations, but these were expressions of gratitude for having been allowed into the life of this wonderful person. During the time I served him afterward, he often retold the events that occurred at the party, marveling at how fulfilling his life had been and how the party was its culmination.

When he died only a week later, the following was reported in the SFGate.

Mr. Goodman requested that there be no memorial service, but a celebration of his life was held at ACT on June 19. The evening, attended by Mr. Goodman and some 200 guests, included a reading of his newest play, “Bloody August.” At the ceremony, Mr. Goodman received a special lifetime achievement award from Actors’ Equity for 63 years of service to the union and to the theater.

A good-bye party is a glorious event celebrating life, and it gives permission for people important in your loved one’s life to say good-bye, an act that is difficult for many to do. The good-bye party says to those who attend: “I know I’m dying, and I want an opportunity to tell you how much you’ve meant to me. And you have my permission to do the same.” People who have attended such parties rank them with some of the most meaningful and joyous events in their lives.

22 Responses

  1. Jane Davis

    Thank you for sharing this. I love this idea of saying goodbye. It is such a difficult time and a challenge for many to cope.

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Jane,

      You’re absolutely right about the difficulty. But people I know who have been involved in a “goodbye” party or a last wishes adventure hold the feeling they had for the person and the experience for a long time. I’ve been fortunate to be involved in both goodbye parties and last wishes adventures.

      Take Care,
      Stan

      Reply
  2. David Michie

    What a wonderfully preferable option to the funeral service. I’ve often contemplated what a pity it is that the dead person never has a chance to hear all the wonderful things his friends and peers had to say about him – things, perhaps, they never said during life.

    If I find myself in Dean’s position, I’d like to do the same.

    Thank you so much, Stan, for sharing this story.

    Reply
  3. Steve Evans

    Stan,
    As I thought about it, I too have a terminal illness — it’s just called life. I’m told no one gets out of it alive. So I suppose the only difference between Dean and me is that I may have a bit longer time before my end [alhough that’s not really certain]… and maybe there’s a bit more ambiguity on just how I’ll die. But as I think of it, these are trivial differences. So Dean and I are in the very same boat.

    I had better end this response quite quickly so I can start checking the Yellow Pages for caterers for the Good Bye Party. Why the heck aren’t we ALL doing that! When I think about it, it’s stupid to wait for liver cancer — this way we have more lead time. It’s true some people won’t fit the party in — “there’s another day,” they’ll say. Probably we should ignore such possible drawbacks. When it is certain without question that this is the last train to the coast, they call the party a “funeral” and it’s usually far from the same amount of fun.

    Thanks for the head’s up, Stan! As usual, great ideas!

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Steve,

      I would differ on only one point of your wonderful response. There is no way you could be as flamboyant as Dean. When it’s my time, I hope to emulate his departure. Except I don’t know where I’ll find a velvet coat of many colors and feathers!

      Stan

      Reply
      • Andrea Heeres

        I think I should start planning my “First Annual Good-bye Party”. That way I won’t miss having one.

      • Stan Goldberg

        Hi Andrea,

        What a great idea! Just think of how many you can have until you really one.

        Take Care,
        Stan

  4. Linda Jane Mclean

    Hi, Stan,
    I’m so pleased this event went well. I’ve heard of it being planned near the end, only for the individual to be too exhausted and in pain to derive any real enjoyment from it. It was something he felt forced to do, because his relatives wished it. So I believe we must be careful.

    My father in law, when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, wanted three things.
    He wanted to die in my home
    He wanted to die with dignity.
    He wanted me to “call time”, as he put it, if he could no longer speak for himself.
    having ascertained that he was completely sure about this, I found it a huge responsibility. He, having taken care of everything,was totally relaxed, no longer fearing the process of dying.

    He then broadcast to all friends and family that he was going to die with dignity, and invited them to come and say goodbye. The concept was welcomed, and everyone came from far and wide. It was amazing.

    They did not arrive all at once, as in a party, but arranged to come and visit on various days, thus giving him something to look forward to as the end approached. It kept him cheerful and engaged, supported his wife, and I honestly do not believe I have seen a more comfortable end,(and having trained in nursing, I have seen many.)

    The patient gained comfort from the small intimate gatherings, with people he had known of different levels throughout the years. Everyone had time to say goodbye privately, in a meaningful way.
    I regard it as one of my major achievements.

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      What an amazing story Linda!

      Those who I have known that have been involved in planning a goodbye party also viewed them as major achievements in their lives, a final gift to a loved one, and a memory that brought back the past into the present, in a very kind and loving way.

      I’ve participated in three goodbye parties, but never planned one. I did however, help many patients in what I call a “last wish.” For some it was a simple thing, such as cooking a fatty corned beef sandwich. For a life-long baseball fan it was planning a last visit to see the Giants play.

      Take Care,
      Stan

      Reply
  5. Penny Ljungquist

    Hi Stan My sister had breast cancer (Sheila).Sheila is loved by many people and she touched many hearts. We lost our brother at 25 yrs old..very hard to take (heart attack)..years later my mother decided to stop medical treatment (kidney failure) and she only had a about 5 days to live..my mother request to see all her family and friends and have a big party with great foods and wine..she wanted everyone to celabrate her life. It was a great turn out and my mother seemed very happy. my sister knew she was going to pass away and it was going to be hard for her to see all the family as the family was spread out. Sheila lived in northeast Canada. Dads side of family California and my mothers family east coast Conn. So my sister wanted to everyone for the last time, so my sister took a flight to California to say bye to my dad and his family she had a nice flight..the she took a flight to Conn to say bye to her large family..so I decided to throw a party for my sister as my family remembered her, she loed the 1970s disc days..so I rented a large hall on the lake had Great food and a DJ with 70s music. She was so sad to say good-bye and yet lotts of smiles on the dance floor and that brought more great memorries. my sister loved the hall and party.so as she was passing I told her, we are going to have a party for you after you pass and she said you already did..I said we are going to have another one..so as I’m sitting her I’m making planes for a week away to have another party like the other instead of a furnal service..I know she will be smiling and crying with us as we are on the dance floor..Sheila Cormier passed away June 24th 2012 in Moncton Canada. age 53

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Penny,

      A wonderful story. I’ve been to three goodbye parties, and the images they created were wonderful for the person who was preparing to die and even years later, where remembered by all who attended.

      Take Care,
      Stan

      Reply
  6. Phoebe Wallace-Echols

    Hi Stan, WOW I am so glad I found your website.I honor and respect your end of life concept. My business Celebrates life and Cherishes Memories.We plan end of life Tributes. My passion and life’s gole is to help families and friends remember the GOOD TIMES. Selling the concept has been a challenge. I am not sure what area you are in, however I would love to speak with you in detail. After reading your post and comments I am convinced more than ever that there is a need for my busines. Thank you in advance for responding

    Reply
    • Stan Goldberg

      Thank you for your kind words Phoebe.Although we are are different sides of the issue (I only work with patients who know they are dying), both of us are serving the same purpose, but with slightly different twists. I’m don’t think there is much I can contribute to your business efforts since what I do is help patients fulfill there last wishes. Good luck on an important activity .

      Stan

      Reply
  7. Stan Goldberg

    That’s terrific. The more people are willing to help those who are dying to live as fully as possible until the end of their life, the better.

    Reply

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