Saying goodbye

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How do you feel about saying good-bye?  How do you do it?  Something crossed my mind the other day, and I thought I’d share it, and hope to hear from some of you if you have some thoughts on it.

How many times have we said good-bye to people?  Hundreds of times?  Thousands?  More?  I’m not sure, but I’m positive it’s many, many times throughout our lives.  Frankly, I have to say that it’s become a bit of a robotic response after 30 some odd years of living.  You leave a scene, you say good-bye.  It’s simple and it’s a social norm in this  society.  Virtually everyone does it.  People from other cultures, recent immigrants, you name it – you can observe them going through with this ritual just as anyone you grew up with here does.  So saying good-bye is basically a way of ending a temporary meeting.

Now, I can only speak for myself when I say that saying good-bye almost invariably touches on an unspoken fact – that it is a temporary parting of ways and with most parties I say good-bye to, I expect and for the most part, want to see them again.  I’m guessing that this will be the same for most people.  Yes, I say good-bye to people I can’t stand and honestly wouldn’t care to see again, but they’re far and few between, and with very, very few exceptions, I wouldn’t wish them any harm whether I want to see them again or not.

So let me throw a wrench into our best-laid, best-intentioned “good-bye” plans.  What if you knew this was the last time you’d say goodbye to that person?  What if you had a crystal ball, and you were given the gift of clairvoyance just that one time?  What if you had to say good-bye and you had the normally hidden knowledge that you would never see that person again?  You can fill in the blanks, I don’t care – you can assume that they will just disappear off the face of the Earth, you can assume that they die, it really doesn’t matter.  The fact is, you will never be able to say anything to that person again.  And I have a rule – you can’t warn them that you’ll never see them again – that would be too easy.  Of course, in some instances, that will be a given and the person you are saying good-bye to will know it’s the last time – I’m going to give you an example of that right away.

I’m guessing that I can speak for most of us when I say this:  if you knew this was the last good-bye, it would depend on who the person is, for you to come up with your response.  A loved one, a spouse, a child – those words would be etched on your soul for eternity and you would make them worth every breath it took to get them out.  A kind stranger who just saved your life – you might not ever see them again, but it may well be the last words you ever speak to them.  A co-worker that you don’t see eye to eye with.  So many possibilities, with an equal number of differing responses, I’m sure.

I have two examples that I’d like to share:  my Dad and my brother, Gary.  I’ve lost both of them, and I’ve had to say my last good-byes with both of them.  One of them, I knew it was the last one – the other, I didn’t.

As you may know from a previous post, I lost my dad to cancer.  He went through a couple of years of illness and passed away after spending the last two weeks in a hospital.  It was those two weeks that made his passing real to me, and I spent every single day at his side.  I was the only person there when he took his last breath, and I was holding his hand when he went.

I did have a chance, many chances as a matter of fact, to say good-bye to my dad.  I took every opportunity to speak to him, to get as much out of our time together as I could, knowing the day would soon come where he couldn’t speak to me anymore.  At our last chance to speak, about 2 hours before he died, I felt it was the last time and I was right.  He didn’t say much, but I know he heard me.  I told him that I didn’t want to say good-bye, but I had to.  I told him that he had been the best father I could ever imagine, and that he had lived his life to the fullest.  I told him that every step he took, and every word he had ever said in my presence had not been in vain.  I told him that I had learned how to be a man from him, and that I couldn’t imagine being loved more than I knew he loved me.  I told him that I would take care of my mom, and I told him he could let go now.  I told him he had fought a good fight, and that he deserved to be out of this pain.  I remember tears streaming down my face, even though I had prepared myself for this, and dripping onto his hand and my hand, together.  And I remember him reaching up one last time to wipe his 20 year-old son’s tears away and telling me, “Son, I have to go now.  I love you so much but I can’t take care of you anymore.  Always do the right thing, and I’ll be watching out for you.”  And with that, his eyes shut and he left us and crossed that great river into somewhere peaceful and without pain.

My other example, although quite different, is just as hard to remember.  My brother Gary was a black sheep of the family.  He spent years in jail, and he lived a hard-boiled existence.  He was 10 years older than me, and he was like a deity to me.  He was massive – anyone who knows me from years ago and who had met Gary will attest – he was a monster.  Gary moved to B.C. to get away from his life here – he got married and had a baby daughter and did his best to be a good husband and father.  I think he succeeded at the father part, but perhaps not so much at the husband part.  Gary made a concerted effort to visit his family in Edmonton whenever he could and would always bring his daughter with him.  We loved seeing him – everytime he’d come, he’d pick me up in his arms and hug me until I couldn’t breathe.  To my memory, he was 6′, 3″ and weighed 290 lbs – and was at 8% body-fat.  He really could squeeze the breath out of you.

Although he was a bad man in his other life, he was also the sweetest person you had ever met, and I know for a fact he would die for a stranger if he could save their life.  The week before Mothers Day weekend in 1994, we got a call from him, saying he couldn’t wait to come up to Edmonton for Mothers Day. I talked to him, and told him about what was new with me.  He always wanted to know what I was doing and told me to be a good kid.  I told him about my girlfriend at the time.  I told him about my progress at the U of A.  I told him about my Audi and some modifications I had just done to it.  I told him about my recent speeding tickets, leaving the room so my mom wouldn’t hear about it.  My dad, of course, knew and smiled to himself.  And I told him I loved him and couldn’t wait to see him in a day or two.  He said he loved me too, and that he’d see us soon.  I told him to drive carefully.  My mom was so excited, as always, and we prepared to have the whole family there.  The Friday of that weekend, we received another call.  It was from the RCMP in Richmond, B.C. – my brother had been killed in a car accident.  He did not have ID on him at the time, but they identified him through fingerprints because of his criminal record – but still needed family to identify his body.  I’ll tell the rest of this story in another post, but I think my point is clear – we had our last good-bye without knowing it.  Would I have said anything differently?  I’m not sure – if I follow my rules, I can’t warn my brother that it will be our last good-bye and so, I think maybe I covered the bases, even though I didn’t know it was the last time.

Does that seem shallow?  I look at it this way – life is short.  Life is short, even if you live a full, long, healthy life.  Our time on this planet is but a fleeting moment in history.  I have been taught, and am teaching my kids, that telling someone they are important or at least letting them know that they are important to you somehow, is critical in life.  And I also feel that telling someone you love exactly that can never be a wasted moment.  I feel that we often say good-bye (or “I love you” instead of good-bye), but don’t mean it.  When was the last time you said “I love you” to someone as you were leaving each other and meant it for what it truly is?

I propose that we make our good-byes more meaningful, because we really never know when it might be the last one.  If we say “I love you” to those it applies to, and we part ways peacefully with those that we don’t necessarily love but are a part of our lives nevertheless, then what more can we do?  Not much, I’d say.  We’ve done our part to love people, and to life in peace and harmony with others.  And that way, when it is time for YOUR last good-bye, you can look back on the legacy that you’ve left behind, those footprints on the great sandy beach of life, and not regret a moment of it – rather, you can be thankful for the love you experienced and gave back, and for all the times you paid it forward.  That’s the way I want to go – smiling with the knowledge that I’ve treated my loved ones and my friends the right way, and that those who barely knew me still were treated with respect and dignity, and that hopefully I made a difference.

So what would you say to someone if you knew it was the last good-bye?

If you’ve enjoyed this, feel free to browse my archives tab for other posts.

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