Some goodbyes are fast and unexpected; our hearts literally feel like they have been cracked open from the pain. We have little time to prepare ourselves, or even consider how life in the future might look, because we simply did not see the winds of change blowing in the direction they decided to go. Yet this emotional tornado leaves a wake of destruction, that in some cases, may never be rebuilt.
Then there are those slow goodbyes; much like the painful bandaid that takes each tiny hair on the arm with it, piece by piece and bit by bit, until a red nasty raw section of flesh is left exposed. Heart shattering all the same, but in slow motion, dragging for weeks, months or even years; taking bits of our souls along the way.
Yet, goodbyes are a way of life. People we love will come and go regardless, and no person is guaranteed to be with us forever. Even though we rationally know that we come into this world alone, and will exit alone, we still feel a sense of shock when these goodbyes occur.
My sister Tammy said it was often a discussion at her Compassionate Friends Meetings between parents who had lost children, whether is was more painful to have a shocking and abrupt death of a child, or to know that it was coming. Both had their pros and cons, but the result being the same, the tragic loss of a child, so a consensus was never really agreed upon. For who wants to receive a late night call saying a child has been killed, or have to watch the pain and suffering they experience through a long illness? Both are horrific, and still “goodbyes.”
I have been watching the slow demise of my beautiful mother for years. Yesterday, I walked into her room in the early morning, only to find her looking around in sheer confusion, not remembering why she was sitting there, or what she was supposed to do upon waking up in the morning. The words no longer forming in her mind, and the thoughts jumping in a jumble of disconnects around her mind. I see her fear, anger and frustration, and it truly hurts my heart. She finally looked at me pleadingly and said, “just tell me what I am supposed to do!” I proceeded by reminding her that she uses a walker, pointing it out next to her because she didn’t know what it was, and explained that she uses it to walk to the bathroom so she can start her morning ritual. Once she slowly made her way to the bathroom, I tried, as unobtrusively as possible, to pop in and out of the bathroom to make sure that she was properly combing her hair, washing her face, and putting toothpaste (and not hand soap as she has done in the past) on the toothbrush. She is slipping quickly, and some days I realize my mother is already long gone. I only wish this gentle woman in front of me to have her dignity, not feel shame for her cognitive failings, and to be as safe and comfortable as possible, but she has become a child again who no longer knows how to do simple tasks.
Even in life when we initiate the goodbye, like in a divorce, ending a longtime friendship, or cutting off a family member, knowing that although we may still love these individuals, that doesn’t mean they are good for our well being. Sometimes intentionally saying goodbye to those we love is a pure and necessary expression of self love. It is said that “People come into our life for a reason, a season or a lifetime,” but that lifetime may not be OUR lifetime.
However, the beautiful part about the human condition is that the bad memories tend to fade, leaving those happier times in a clearer light. Perhaps as we approach our “goodbyes” we need to remember that time has a way of serving as a healing balm. It doesn’t always take away the pain, but rather dulls it. Seeing the lessons and the joy these relationships brought us, allow us to find gratitude, even when it is time to say goodbye.