I’ve not had much experience with the tumult of emotion that forever goodbyes bring. I watched two grandmothers fade away – with one, I kept vigil by her bed, listening to her final laboured breaths, whispering over and over again that it was OK for her to go. My other grandmother clung to a long string of days, passing them like pearls on a necklace, as she inched closer and closer to her Lord. I wasn’t there when she finally left to meet him.
But tonight, I said goodbye to a still living friend. He’s leaving Thursday to be with his family in Ontario for the few sunset months the cancer has granted him. Granted, our friendship has been as adult friendships frequently are…opinionated conversations to unearth common ground, good-natured ribbing, occasional evenings and barbeques, a few shared stories. To be honest, we’ve been more a part of his dying than of his living.
But, as we sat chatting in his kitchen, the weight of his leaving hollowed my heart. This was forever goodbye. He is part of an elite club – those who face their own death – who watch it coming, helpless to stop its advance. He sat in his wheelchair and talked about how his dying would pain his mother, his grandson. I’ve always appreciated his blunt honesty, and at this moment, I wanted to counter with my own. I wanted to know, “How do you face this? How do you go to sleep at night, knowing each day that passes brings you closer? How do you say goodbye, over and over? Does being a Christian really take away the fear?” It seemed that the time for dancing had passed - but still I hesitated – I may also be a Christian, but what did I know about dying?
A local pastor dropped by for a brief visit. When he prepared to leave, he shook his hand. “See you later,” he said as he left.
Having faith that goodbye isn’t really forever may help tomorrow, but it doesn’t fill the hollow today.