Thursday, December 8, 2011

Good-byes

I don't think our culture is very good at saying good-bye. Not the simple good-byes from one meeting to the next, or the harder good-byes when the end is final. I also don't think we are very good at good-byes when someone we have worked with for a few months, or for many, many years leaves their career, or their place of employment.

When my husband was retiring after 28 years with a company the company sent him an email and told him to purchase himself a gift for $700.00 and submit the receipt to them.

Of course, this same company, on his 25th work anniversary, sent him a catalogue and told him he could pick any gift on certain pages, and if he wanted it inscribed he could choose what the inscription read. Personal, eh?

Until I was in my 30s the only funeral I had ever attended was my father's. I have no memory of it. I have limited memories of the reception at our house after the funeral. I left for an island right after the funeral. My mother thought it better to get me away from it all. I never got to go to the hospital to say good-bye to my father. There is no blame in this statement. My mother made this decision for her and my father's reasons. I didn't agree with their wishes, but this was not for me to comment on. It was not my decision. I was seventeen.

When my mother was dying I tried to have a conversation with her about her death. I tried to say good-bye. It didn't work. She didn't want to go there, and I didn't want to force the issue. I still remember the last time I saw her. She was sitting on the porch of the care facility. She was sitting in a chair, having a cigarette. She looked so tiny, so frail. I think I knew as I drove away that this would be our last good-bye. I didn't do it very well.

My mother had raised me to know that 'she didn't do funerals'. For years I recited the same mantra. Then a 10 year old girl at our school died. I decided that I did 'do' funerals. They are important - they help us support the survivors, they help us cry and acknowledge our grief. They give us comfort. They acknowledge a life - whether it is only a few months, or many decades. Since that funeral I have been to many others: a friend's tiny baby, my son's violin teacher, my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, a son of a colleague, a teacher at my children's school,a mother in our school community, a friend from La Leche League, my aunt's, my husband's cousin, and my friend's son.

I am still not good at saying good-bye, but I find such comfort in these gatherings. I wish there had been a funeral for my mother. I wish I had been more 'awake' to my father's funeral. I wish saying good-bye wasn't so hard.

I do believe these good-byes are only temporary, but still they seem so permanent. All of these funerals remind me that a time will come when I might attend the funeral of a sibling. Funerals remind me that I may attend the funeral of my husband of 35 years. God willing I will not have to do what my grandmother did and attend the funeral of one of my children.

These are difficult thoughts. But, I think this is why saying good-bye is hard. Because there are some people in our lives we literally can't bear to have to say good-bye to.

So airport good-byes, collegial good-byes, holiday good-byes, daily good-byes are hard. Because we never know when those simple daily good-byes become permanent. We just never know.

1 comment:

  1. My husband will not leave the house without kissing me goodbye. Just in case it's the last time, he does it right every time.
    I was 11 when my Mom died and I wasn't told ahead of time although they all knew she was dying from before I was born. I have some anger still that I wasn't given the chance to say goodbye.
    I know it's hard to admit you're dying, but not admitting it means no one gets to say goodbye. It's not fair to those you leave behind.

    ReplyDelete

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