09/08/2016 11:10 BST | Updated 09/08/2017 06:12 BST

Who Would You Like to Be There When You Die?

Leonard Cohen was not there when his former muse and long-term friend, Marianne Ihlen, died. But within hours of hearing that she was dying, he reached out to her in a letter and she is said to have literally reached out to him. Two days late she died. But what if those you want to be there, when you die, are already dead?

These days I think about dying and death more than ever before. Perhaps I should have started with that a long time ago. Then a lot of things may be clearer for me -

  • now that I am in my 50s,
  • now that I am at an age where people that I know or related to are dying,
  • and now after my treatment for cancer, which has left me with a greater appreciation of the fragility of life.

We all know of stories, when people are said to have held on for others to arrive (or leave?), for dates and events to pass before they let go and die.

With predictable regularity do we read articles about the very same topic at the beginning of each year, with a spike in deaths in January, which is not just down to the cold season.

And so I sometimes wonder, who I would like to be there or not, when it is my turn to die.

And I also think about the people, who have died, without me having had a chance to say goodbye, or sorry, or you are forgiven, or I love you, or to ask why....

  1. I could not say goodbye to my father, who died unexpectedly in hospital, alone, the night before the day he was due to be discharged. We had trouble speaking with each other in a way that was open and meaningful. I know it pained us both, and sometimes I had to cut through it all by hugging him, or just holding his hand, briefly. He was a troubled man, all his life, and that troubled us. It still troubles me today, and 3 years on, I am still struggling to make peace and say goodbye.
  2. The other person who comes to mind, is someone who meant a lot to me once, but things were not meant to be. Actions speak louder than words, and his actions never delivered what the words promised. We met in 1992, then had hardly any contact for the best part of 15 years. Then I was ready to reach out again, to say something, anything, to make peace. But I was not ready to make direct contact, yet. I googled his name, and the first item that came up was his obituary.
  3. The third person, is my former therapist, who accompanied me for many years through a lot of introspection, changes, my own therapy training and so much more. When I told him about the lump I had found, he did not flinch. I knew then 'I can do this and face my cancer.' You could not make it up, but during the time of my cancer treatment, he became ill, was unable to support me, and 5 months later he died, of cancer.

Currently, the three people I would like to reach out to, say goodbye to and make peace with before I die, they have gone before me. They are dead. No more explanations.

But I am taking their memories with me into every new day. I am trying to avoid repeats by speaking the truth and asking for the truth, even if I do not get an answer, even if the answer hurts.

There are consequences to whatever we do and say and what we do not do or say.

I still have conversations with all three. We are going to work it out. I will make peace. I have to make peace, in order to die in peace, wherever and whenever that may be.

Karin Sieger is a psychotherapist and writer. Her blog is Between Self And Doubt. For more information visit

You might also be interested in her guide to bereavement and article about situations when the person dying no longer wants to talk with you.