Goodbyes are a peculiar thing, don’t you think? I believe they are. Well, actually, “peculiar” is just one word to describe it. Others would be, “relieving”, “refreshing”, “painful”, “heartbreaking”, “bold” and so on and so forth.
I guess it’s fair to say that a goodbye begins with one word, morphs into another through the process of time, then ends with something completely different to what it started with.
Here’s what I mean:
A person dies, for example, and we are forced to say farewell. Initially, the word for this may be “trauma” or “scared”. As time goes on, this transforms into “anger” as we blame them for leaving us. Given even more time, and the right circumstances, this may eventually move to “acceptance”. Three words to describe one. And the cycle is complete. Of course, each cycle is different for each person.
Personally, I don’t know what’s worse; a goodbye that is forced upon us through something like a death, or a goodbye that we ourselves are forced to make due to a situation not turning out the way we want it to. It may be easy to think that the former would be the worst, but maybe the unrelenting disappointment of a hopeless situation could also rival that. I’m not sure.
You may be wondering why I am choosing to write about this – or maybe not, considering my work can be quite abstract. But let me just say that the emotional roller-coaster I found myself in last week has prompted this. It has also caused me to reflect on a couple of other goodbyes of last year.
The first reflection:
I thought of this not because of the death itself, but because of the experience of the funeral.
There was a group of 5 of us rushing and sweating in the sunshine to make it in time to the funeral hall. We got off at the correct station and someone says the words: “So who has the address of where we are going?”. This prompted the looks of horror and “you have got to be kidding me” from the rest of us. No one had remembered this one vital piece of information. We had travelled all this way, and were now stuck at this random station. Luckily (if you could call it that) someone else pointed out that they were sure the street name had the word “church” in it, and that once we find said street, the funeral hall will be right there, because it will be the only one around.
In true modern style, we all got our iPhones out and indeed, there it was…a street with the name “church” in it. We had nothing to lose. Once there, the place was filled with crematoriums and church halls. “Which one is it?”
Just as we were about to enter a second phase of panic, we saw a crowd; we followed the crowd.
We said our thank you’s at the door of the hall everyone was heading to as we were handed the order of service booklet. We inconvenienced an entire pew as we pushed our way to the only empty seats at the far end. “I’m really sorry…so sorry.”
We sung an entire hymn and had begun the first verse of the next when we all decided (it would seem practically simultaneously) to flip through the booklet. We saw the picture of the departed; a woman in her 70’s with gray hair. I knew what we were all thinking, but it was voiced by someone else “eeerrr, that’s not Keith”. Yes, our person was male with black hair and in their 40s…so who on earth is this?
We stop singing; we conferred (reverently); we decided that actually, it might not be the best idea to stay and cry with the others while pretending we know this woman. So out we came. We inconvenienced the pew once more “I’m sorry…really I am” and handed the order of service back to the man at the door; “thank you…really great service”
The word to describe this goodbye: quietly humorous.
The second reflection:
A second death:
Not long after the above, I got news of another passing. This one was on my mind because his end was sudden and so my corresponding word for this goodbye was “shocker”.
When I think of the funeral, I see people standing around the grave in silence looking straight ahead at each other. Falling autumn leaves littering the floor to produce a crisp crimson. No one shedding a tear because the weather is too cold, but then, no tear is needed because each facial expression tells it all. Each quivering lip says, “if I could cry now, I would”.
Of course, I know that is not how it happened at all. I wasn’t at the funeral, I didn’t make it. I was told what happened. He was cremated, there were no leaves, and the weather wasn’t that cold.
And so, this leads me to…
This one wasn’t forced upon me. It falls under the latter category. The one where I myself choose to say goodbye. The one where unrelenting disappointment has prevailed. I don’t want to wave a farewell to this. God knows I desperately do not want to, but for a situation where I have tried over and over to change the outcome, and everything goes against me…well, what other choice is there. I am finding it hard to shrug my shoulders and declare “c’est la vie”. Those are not the words I want. “C’est la vie?” What I want is “joy”, “surprise” “elation”…not goodbye…oh God please not goodbye. But I am torn…as much as I want to hang on, and just because I can, it doesn’t mean that I should. I must let go. For the sake of my own sanity, and the sanity of those around me, I walk away.
The picture above is more symbolic because no one has passed away this time. The hat on the stone…on the cross, I just felt it was appropriate.
So what does this mean to me? What word do I choose to chronicle this moment? I have more than one. I have a mixture. I have sentences:
A lump in my throat. A knot in my stomach. An ache in my heart.
That is where it starts.
But where does it end? I am not sure, but I can imagine that the word “release” will feature somewhere down the line.
But for now, my final word is…GOODbye.