Saying a Good Good-Bye

“It's important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse. That bungled goodbye hurts me to this day.” 

Yann Martel, Life of Pi

             Sometimes when cancer comes to a loved one, there may come a moment when you realize that there is no more to be done besides keeping your loved one comfortable until death arrives. In late spring of 2005 my family was at that sad moment with my Mom. She had lung cancer and it was clear to my brothers, Blake and Scott and my father that she was dying.

            My Dad had been busy caring for my Mom since her cancer re-appeared just after the first of the year. My brothers and I knew that my mother wasn’t getting better; and we sensed that she wasn’t going survive. Maybe because love continues to blind, in their case, after fifty-two years of marriage, my parents had a harder time seeing and accepting her impending death. It can’t be easy to acknowledge then end of your life or the life of your spouse.

            In those last weeks of my mother’s life, my Dad hardly ever left her. She was the natural care-giver of the two. She was a Registered Nurse; my Dad owned an office supply and furniture business. I give him lots of credit. He never shrank from fulfilling his marriage vows until his wife drew her last breath as he and I stood beside her.

            When my father did understand and accept the end, all he wanted to do was to remember the years my Mom and he shared. He wanted to review every phase of their relationship by remembering their courtship and marriage, the birth of their sons and grandchildren, vacations and holidays. My Dad wanted to talk about those memories. He wanted to laugh one more time at numerous funny stories from their half-century together. Knowing how sentimental my father is, he probably wanted to hold my Mom’s hand and weep too.

            The act of saying a good good-bye requires time for careful remembering. A good good-bye is an intentional one with much time given for memories to surface and then be shared.  

            You and I are saying good-bye. I conclude my ministry in a matter of weeks. After Sunday, April 8th, I will no longer be your pastor. I want to say a good good-bye to you.

            I hope we can remember our many years together. There are Christmas Eves and Easter Sundays to recall. We have baptisms, weddings, even funerals to recall. I know that I have loads of retreats, missions trips and youth conferences to review mentally. If saying good-bye is like a small grief, and I think in this case it is just that; then we need to lean into our farewells. Let’s promise each other that we’ll give ourselves to walk through our memory galleries, pausing to relish those great events and offer God thanks. Additionally, let’s work to say what we need to say to each other: Thank you. I forgive you. I appreciate you. I love you very much. Let’s agree to leave nothing significant unsaid.

            Is that a deal?