Goodbyes never easy
by April E. Clark
The problem with getting older is saying goodbye ” and really meaning it. And not saying goodbye, and regretting every minute of it.
For myself, and other transplants who choose to live thousands of miles away from family and friends, moving has only elevated sappy, tearful farewells. The more I travel back and forth from home, and the more people I meet in my adventures, the more I have to express my farewells.
Sometimes I wish I was that kind of person who never says goodbye. You know the type ” the one who prematurely leaves a party, or sometimes even the state, to avoid the hugging and the “be carefuls” when parting ways. There could be something to skipping out early, but I would never get past the thought that I didn’t say goodbye, especially if I never saw that person again.
Sometimes in life, that happens to the best of us. But sometimes you get a second chance.
Sunday marks 27 years since my maternal grandmother passed away after a doctor gave her one year to live following a terminal cancer diagnosis. My mom says it really was almost a year to the day from when the family heard the news and she died. Just one year.
I will always remember the last day I saw my grandma Betty, and that there was no time for goodbye. As quick as her cancer had spread from a lump on the neck to tumors throughout her body, paramedics had rushed her out the door of that white house with pink and purple petunias on the porch in Lawrence, Ind. My mom said she was in a lot of pain, and she comforted her by telling her she would be back home again soon. She looked up at my mom with a face that said, “No, I won’t.”
I watched the ambulance disappear as I stood at my grandparents’ picture window, an upright piano standing underneath for my Aunt Patty to play. My grandma’s sister Helen, whom I cherish to this day, wrapped her arms around me and told me everything would be OK, but even at 6 years old, I knew. At the end, my grandma went too fast, and there were few who really had the chance to say their goodbyes when she was alert. Even my grandma’s mother, Ruth, who traveled from Illinois for the funeral, kissed her tenderly on the forehead before the casket was closed in a way that silently pleaded for a real mother-daughter goodbye.
Something happened to my grandma before she died that gives me hope that the absence of a mortal goodbye isn’t so final. When doctors were determining the extent of her cancer, a procedure injected dye into her system to test her kidneys. She was allergic to the dye, and there were complications, and she nearly died. During it all, she saw a circle of girls above her from grade school back in Altamont, Ill., during the ’30s. They were going around the circle saying each of their names, and my grandma remembered each and every one.
Life has a way of coming full circle.
When I was about 19, I had a fight with my boyfriend over something trivial, I’m sure, and I drove to my aunt Patty’s house 60 miles away for comfort. She’s always good talking and lending and ear. Alone and crying, I headed toward her farmhouse in the country not knowing exactly where I was going.
The sky was dark, I had never driven there alone, and cell phones were not quite standard issue. Like a scene from “The Blair Witch Project,” I made laps around the rural roads of Swayzee, Ind., fearful of not finding my way. Then a strange thing happened. I was scanning tunes on my stereo, and my grandma’s favorite song that played at her funeral, “The Last Farewell” by Roger Whittaker, filled the car. The lyrics are:
“There’s a ship lies rigged and ready in the harbour. Tomorrow for old England she sails/Far away from your land of endless sunshine/To my land full of rainy skies and gales/And I shall be aboard that ship tomorrow/Though my heart is full of tears at this farewell/For you are beautiful/And I have loved you dearly. More dearly than the spoken word can tell …”
It’s one of those unexplained occurrences some people believe and other don’t, but I could feel my grandma around me. Not too long after, chills went down my back and I cried some more, but this time over something real and genuine ” I found Patty’s house. She wasn’t surprised. She said she is always with her, too.
If there is ever a time when I don’t get to say my final goodbyes to someone, or if I miss them before they die, I’m not too concerned. Hellos and goodbyes are all a part of the circle of life.
April E. Clark remembers coloring a bookmark that read “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you” for her grandma when she was sick in the hospital during the holidays. She can be reached at email@example.com or 945-8515 ext. 518.
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