Saying Goodbye for the Last Time

When do we say goodbye for the last time?

A great deal has happened in 2010 that inspires me to try to collate the fragments of ideas I have about life.  The loss of my father, a friend being diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer, other losses and challenges to people in my life.  So much, I haven’t known where to start or what to say.  This is the first topic that I’ve been able to wrap my brain around.

It has now been about four months since a dear friend was diagnosed with brain cancer.  My friend, her family and their situation has been an integral part of our lives for that time.  In one way we’ve been fortunate enough to provide assistance is in giving her friends and family visiting from out of town a bed to sleep in.  When I say fortunate I mean it in a very real sense, both in the sense that our situation affords us the ability to do that and in the fortune of the wonderful people we’ve had the chance to meet.

After spending a long day with my friend, one such guest came back to our house very distraught as she felt she had just said goodbye for the last time.  I really was at a loss for how to comfort someone who has felt a very tangible loss while in that no man’s land between having some control of a situation and none at the same time.  You see, my guest is a photojournalist who may be on assignment in Dubai one day and earthquake ravaged Haiti the next. Where she will be a month from now may be well out of her control as she explained, “saying ‘no’ means you may not get the call the next time”.  Not good for a freelance photographer.

So, I didn’t have anything particularly helpful to say. But I listened and we talked.  Maybe that helped.  I hope so.

But it did get me thinking.

One of the other events of 2010 occurred, about a week after my friend’s diagnosis, was my father’s death.  This was quite sudden and unexpected.  The last time I had a chance to say goodbye was about four hours before he died.  I was at the hospital with my friends husband, her children, my wife and others.  My dad called to see how she was doing.  He had been a caregiver for my step mom for a number of years and understood that situation, the feelings and the tough decisions that get made.  When I said goodbye I was more concerned with the potential loss of my friend than my father.  It seemed reasonable given the situation and the excellent checkup he had just two days prior.

Getting back to the photojournalist. It would be easier if I just used names, wouldn’t it?  Anyway, her story is even more pertinent than you might think.  She came very close to dying herself about 8 years ago in a bus accident in a a remote part of Laos.  The bus was hit by a logging truck on a narrow road.  Her recovery began with a villager picking glass out of her, sewing her up without anesthesia and an 8 hour trip in the bed of a pickup to a hospital.  It finished months and months later.  This is her life.

So, why is it that she doesn’t realize that EVERY TIME she says goodbye it could be the last?

While I had no extraordinary reason to expect that call with my father would be our last, I now realize I had no reason to believe it wouldn’t be.  The universe is a dispassionate place with no regard for your pre-conceived notions of mortality, fairness or importance.

Why is it that we don’t all realize that EVERY TIME we say goodbye it might be the last?

It seems to me it was a skewed perspective to lead my guest to think that particular goodbye had greater significance than all the previous, or that my last goodbye with my dad had any less.  You just don’t know and it may just be messed up that we don’t think this way.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” — (Anonymous proverb, Sometimes attributed to Dr Seuss)