I’m working on a collaboration with Lawrence artist Kent Smith that is taking shape as a interactive journal/activity-book for caregivers. It’s a work in progress that I’m really excited about, so I’m attaching a short piece I wrote with it in mind.
I hope you are well and that you have moments like I did when I took this photo outside of Palm Springs, California – when you feel cradled and wholly immersed in the beauty around you.
The Biggest Goodbye
My friend Sandy was forty-six when she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that was too advanced to be treated. The speed of her decline took my breath away. I saw her a handful of times in the month between her diagnosis and her death and we laughed, reminisced about our days of working together in the restaurant business and talked about our mutual love of writing. I clung to every moment I had with her; they felt so precious. I’ll never forget the moment when I realized I would likely be making the last visit to see her. I now had the opportunity to say goodbye and I didn’t want to blow it like I had with my dad over twenty years ago. The biggest goodbye may be the most important one. I rehearsed what I wanted to say to her in my head in the car ride over: thank you for being such a good friend, I will continue to love those you love, no one who met you could possibly forget you, I love you and goodbye, my friend. Climbing into her bed the day before she died and whispering those words into her ear as she squeezed my hand was one of the most special moments in my life.
This is hard stuff, this saying goodbye. This part that goes against every fiber of our desires. We don’t want to say goodbye and can easily let it go without being said, even when we have the chance. Perhaps we think that it would upset our loved one, as if they don’t understand that they are dying. Wanting to soothe and comfort ourselves, as well as our loved one, is tangled up with not wanting to let go, much less say goodbye. We can convince ourselves that it doesn’t need to be said. Sudden deaths – whether they are the results of accidents, suicides, or acute medical situations – remind us otherwise. In those cases we often long to be able to have had the opportunity to say the important stuff. I had many years to prepare for my dad’s death but, due to immaturity or entrenched family patterns, I failed to say out loud some things that I wished I had. Things like – You didn’t say it, but I know you love me. I didn’t say it enough, but I love you. I’m sorry if you felt alone during this past year. I’m grateful I got to be closer to you this past year. I will try to keep your creative spirit alive. Thank you.
Writing these words make me emotional and he’s been gone for decades. I can’t go back and say these things but even writing them is healing. It’s never too late to reflect on what you would have done differently and to use that insight to move forward more deliberately. What I failed to say to my dad helped bring me to a place where I planned my words to Sandy. The difficulty in coming to terms with the goodbye can be rewarded by the intimacy of a moment with your loved one, a moment that can be marked by a depth that is often lacking in our everyday lives. What an opportunity if we can open ourselves up to it.