Saying Goodbye

Annah Elizabeth 10 Comments

Many years ago, I began closing my written correspondences with “Soon.”

How many times have you or those close to you said, “Later,” as you parted.

How many times have you or those you’d love to see more often lamented, “It’s been far too long since we’ve seen each other!,” “How long has it been?” “We must get together soon!”

How many days, weeks, months, yearspass before you actually make the meeting happen?

About four years ago, after experiencing this “promising” between my close friends and me, I finally said, “Get your calendar. Let’s set a date, or we will find a year has passed without seeing each other.”

Now, when I hear myself, or one of my friends, speaking those promissory words, I stop. Let’s take the time; let’s make a plan.

Adding soon at the end of my written correspondences seemed to reiterate that practice, and seemed to have more meaning, more sincerity, more promise than later

Sometimes later never comes. Nine months ago, a pal of mine e-mailed me about one of her childhood friends. She’d learned that the woman, who now lived several states away, a mother of four school-aged children, was dying from stage four colon cancer.

“What do you SAY to someone who has six months to live?,” she asked.

“You tell her how much she enriched your life, that you are sending forth strength and blessings for her, her family and loved ones…you tell her she will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of all who know her…”

That was the only response I could craft after I asked myself the question, What do you SAY to someone who is asking for help dealing with death and tragedy?Despite the distance between us, I could feel my friend’s emotional conflict and could only imagine the depth of feeling the sick woman’s family was facing.

We think that if we know in advance, if we have time to prepare, to plan, that it will somehow be easier.

I would surmise that parts of anticipating the inevitable could make the tragedy a bit easier.

One has the opportunity to express their wishes, to make some necessary arrangements, families and friends have a chance to ask questions, and everyone has a chance to fulfill dreams.

Yet, I would surmise that the waiting, in its own way, is as frustrating and chaotic as the unexpected loss of a loved one, for it lends its own set of conflicts.

Last week, another friend of mine attended the funeral of one of her longtime friends, who’d also succumbed to a long battle with terminal cancer.

She, too, left behind a young family, and a large extended network of loved ones.

“How are you?” I asked my pal. “I think there is so much suffering in this life, so much senseless tragedy,” she replied.

As you read this, you can, no doubt, think of people you know who are coping with the death of someone they love.

Every year, countless teenagers, ecstatic with their newfound freedoms, die in car crashes.

How many vacationer’s lives are changed in auto accidents?

Summer is a time for swimming. How many drowning deaths?

How many heroes are lost, courageous people like Darin McGahey, the Little League coach from Georgia who died while trying to save children caught in the ocean’s currents?

One quick Google search turned up this statistic: an estimated 108 people die each minute. That equates to 1.8 persons per second.

Blink. Accident. Age. Disease. Suicide.

Death is as random and as variable as the lives we live each day.

What can we do?
Why did this happen?
How do we move on?
Where do we go from here?
How do we survive the pain?
Why is there so much suffering in life.


Those are a few of the prevailing questions prompted by death, especially that which happens as result of the unexpected.

“We feel that way because we always want more,” I replied to my friend who lamented life’s unfairness.

It is equally that simple and that complex.

We want more time. We want more love. We want more comfort, more kindness, more hugs and kisses, more peace…

And, yet, the truly twisted part of the wanting, is that it is an integral part of our grief.

If we did not want so, we would not have passion and compassion.

Those emotions, those feelings are what enable us to love so deeply, which in turn, brings about our sadness when the physical presence of what we love is no longer with us.

My friend and one other recently drove several hours to take their comrade to a daily radiation treatment.

Little did they know the trip would be the last time they would see her.

How beautiful this life is that its energy moved them to make a visit one week before her death?

That they could be there to nurture her, to support her, to express their love and share a hug…

They did not know their farewell would be final, that the embrace would be their last.

We never really know when a goodbye will be a forever.

Even when we are sitting bedside of the dying and know the body is shutting down, we do not know when the last breath will be exhaled.

And until the coroner has declared death, for many of us, deep within lies the hope that we’ll have more.

Given that very human nature, how do we say goodbye?

I don’t know. There is no universal authority, for the answer is as varied and variable as we are.

Your solution may be very different from mine.

Today’s response may be very different from tomorrow’s.

There are a few things I do know, however.

I will continue to end my conversations with loved ones, or declare when parting from them, “I love you.”

I will, more often than not, wait for, encourage if need be, the elicited response, “Love you, too, Mom.”

Even though my children occasionally find the behavior annoying, if not embarrassing, “Mom, please”….

Even when I am so angry with one of my cherubs, I always try to state, “I love you, always, but right now I am just angry…”

I try not to go to bed with hostilities hanging around in the house.

I will continue making a conscious effort to let friends and family know how much I appreciate them.

When the air around me whispers a name, I try to take notice, to drop a quick note that says, “I thought about you today. How are things going?”

Sometimes the winds will send the name to me numerous times before I take action, but I attempt to pay attention.

I will continue trying to be mindful of those life elements I am grateful for… which is so much easier said than done!

Especially for those of us who seem to be tuned in to life’s injustices…

I will continue to work toward celebrating the best parts of my existence.

I used to tell my friends and family that “I don’t want people to cry at my funeral.”

After I truly grasped the correlation between loss and life, when I realized that our grief is not about what we lost, but the attachment to what or who is no longer with us, I began sharing this with my loved ones: “Okay, when I die, I want you to bawl your brains out for an hour. Blubber, if you must. That way I’ll know I was loved. Then celebrate my life. Share the funny stories, the goofy parts of my existence, and my idiosyncrasies that drive each of you crazy.”

Funny thing is, as I write those directions down, I realize I needn’t be setting these directives, for we tend to do this naturally…

I will continue to love as deeply as I can, even knowing the level of loss I will someday face may be equally profound…

I know, beyond all doubt, that our loved ones are always with us. We carry them in our hearts. We may say goodbye to the physical, but the spiritwill prevail as long as we honor and pay homage to it.

Soon…