Goodbyes are never sudden, because when we part from someone, we don’t know if we’ll ever see them again. So we go on our way, saying goodbye to those we love a thousand times before it happens. But we usually don’t think we’re doing so, and therefore may not do it well.
Always be saying goodbye, at least a little, to everyone you love, whenever you leave them. Not literally. I mean, always say or do something, no matter how small, that will comfort you if you never see that person alive on this earth again.
Or if they never see you alive on this earth again.
Not “Goodbye! We may never meet again!” No! That would depress everyone, and soon even your closest loved ones wouldn’t want to see you coming!
One very good way to say goodbye is just to say, “I love you.” Or, “This was a really good day! I’m glad I got to spend time with you today!”
“You brightened my day today! Thank you!” “You always make me laugh! I love your sense of humor!”
“I really appreciate your wisdom, Dad / Mom / buddy! Your advice has made my path in life a lot easier.”
If you’re good with humor, tell a joke just before you leave. Leave them laughing! Or tell them how proud you are of something specific they said or did. Tell them how much you value their influence on the grandkids. Whatever. You know your friends and family best. Think this out before the last minute. But be alert, too, for spontaneous thoughts that occur at the last moment. These arise naturally and can be especially sweet and comforting in the memory later.
There are a thousand ways you can say goodbye. You can even be saying goodbye from the moment you meet someone. Share an old photo of the two of you, or of Mom or Dad or weird Cousin Jack. Hug. Touch. Ask questions that get them talking about their memories, especially for your older family and friends.
“Dad, where was your first duty station? What was your 1st Sergeant like?” What was your first job?What did it do for you?” “Mom, tell me about your first date!” “Uncle Joe, how did you get interested in playing the sax? Nobody else in the family has any musical talent!”
You get the idea. These are the kind of questions that would bring Perry Mason to his feet: “Objection, Your Honor! Leading question!”
Well of course. Especially for older friends and family, lead them back in time to happier days, and if you do it right, “Happy Days” will be “Here Again”, at least for a little while.
Be pepared to take enough time when you ask leading questions. You may have to prime the pump quite a bit the first few times you do this, but it will be worth it. You will have given them happiness, at least a little, and for the old folks, maybe just forgetfulness of the unhappy present, maybe just for a little while. Anything that drives back the loneliness, the fear, pain or discomfort, the feeling of worthlessness, is good for them. And you’ll laugh and enjoy too.
And it’s not just for them, because that dreaded, dark day will come when, know it or not, your goodbye is final. When it does – I’ve just learned this myself, the hard way – the more you have been involved in their lives, especially end-of-life care for elderly friends or family, the bigger the black void that will suddenly be staring you in the face. You will handle that better if you have prepared yourself for it.
You will feel some of the same things they felt as the end approached. Fear, loneliness, emptiness. Your attention and effort were been focussed on that person, and all that focus will now seem to have no purpose. Trust me friends, it can be a rough ride until you get control back. It’s better to face that moment knowing it’s coming, and having backup, friends, a trusted spiritual leader or a mature, sound Christian friend to help you get through it in good shape, and quickly enough that the black void doesn’t get a grip on your mind.
My father died on December 1st. My brothers and I “went through the process”, the legal and ceremonial rituals of death, and we handled it all very well. We shed tears. Oh yeah. Three large alpha males trying not to let it show, choking it back. At least one of them was afraid that he was going to totally lose it and break down bawling like a baby. (Don’t ask, OK?) But we bore down hard and got through it. We arranged my Dad’s memorial service, sent out the invitations, got the church program printed out the way we wanted it. Dealt with the cemetary, talked out how we’d handle the small estate Dad left. Etc. etc. etc.
Visiting relatives returned to their homes. We went back to work, although myself and one brother had become sick and were struggling with illness. By December 11th, all decisions had been made and there was no more process, no more ritual. My father’s death was over in a very complete way. Life began to return to “normal” for our father’s three sons. I kept feeling brief moments of something like fear, but that didn’t make sense, and they never lasted more than a few seconds. I chose not to pursue those thoughts.
Sunday the 17th, in the evening, I was sitting at my kitchen table, when all of a sudden I felt as if I was staring into a black void. It wasn’t just, “Dad’s gone”. It was, “What do I do with myself now?” A strong feeling of having no reason to exist in the Universe. As if my life had no point from then on.
I suspect this part would have been different if I had a wife or children. Bachelors, beware of death.
I shook it off, telling myself “This is ridiculous!”. But in only a couple of minutes, the void returned and intensified, and I was suddenly scared. Because the void seemed to speak with the voice of reason.
As a young man, there was a time when I returned to consciousness pinned in the wreckage of the truck I’d been driving, on a lonely country road with no one in sight or earshot, and gas dripping into the cab. I panicked. I started shouting, kicking and pounding anything I could reach. I was totally out of control. It took less than half a minute to get a grip again, and I wasn’t alone, and EMTs came and pried me out with the Jaws of Life, and everything ended well. But I had learned what panic felt like.
Panic was what I felt stirring in my mind this December 17th. Remember Roosevelt’s old saying, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”? That was me. I still had my very good job, knew I was going to keep it, was still in pretty good health, etc. Everything still the same except for that black void, and yet for a few minutes I listened to the voice of the void and was very, very scared.
I was scared enough – of what, you might ask – that I called a Christian friend. No one home. Called my father’s pastor. No one home. The void sneered.
I finally did what I should have done first: I began to pray. All I could say, several times, was, “Lord, help me. I’m scared. I need for You to speak to me right now. Please.”
I sat there in silence for a few minutes. Suddenly my phone rang. My youngest brother. “Hey, how you doin? Just thought I’d call and see how you’re getting along.”
He’s an over-the-road trucker, and he was on the road, but he stopped to call and check on me. There was more, of course. He had a suggestion about how to handle my Dad’s last asset better. As we began to discuss it, I got another incoming call: my other brother. I told Mike who it was and said, “There’s no reason for him to be calling me now. This may be urgent. Let me call you back in five minutes.”
So I answered that call, and that brother said, “I just thought I’d call and see how you were doing….”
When I hung up, with tears running down my face, I laughed out loud. Then I “made a call”: “Thank You, Lord, for showing me that You’re still listening. Still with me. I really needed to hear from You. Thank You!”
No way will I ever believe that was a double coincidence. No way. I’ve lived too long to believe that.
And that’s the last random though I want to leave with you. I knew everythinh I needed to know intellectually, believed it, lived by it, but for some reason, at this point, I needed to hear from the Holy One of Israel. And He answered. The God of Creation. Answered. Me.
Folks, He’s there for every one who will turn to Him. I’m not special. But you really need to turn to Him in faith, or in search of faith, before a crisis comes. You don’t want to be a stranger to God when you hit the worst moments of life.
King Jesus said in John 6:37-40:
“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
If you have to say goodbye to someone you love and they have not put their faith in Jesus, it is indeed forever, and that is a terrible grief. But if you both have believed in Jesus, that bitter parting will be overcome by the greatest comfort it is possible to have, the “peace that is beyond comprehension”, because your life and theirs are just beginning when you leave this life. The proof of that is that the One on Whom that promise depends was Himself raised from the dead by His Father, and there were plenty of eyewitnesses. The apostle Paul wrote,
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1st Corinthians 15:3-8)
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
I testify that those words of Jesus are true. In ocean-going terms, I was hit by a heavy squall I didn’t see coming. But I have built my life on His words, and He answered when I called, and my house is still standing. Not because of my strength of will, but because He is real, He was resurrected, and He spoke the truth. Blessed be the name of the Lord!