Thursday, December 8, 2011


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.


Add your thoughts....join the conversation.