Paul J. Moon, PhD
Goodbyes may be more important than hellos in that the former is guaranteed while the latter is not (for example, successive birthdays are never guaranteed, but eventual death-day is inarguable). Goodbyes may be weightier than hellos in that the former is likely latched to a cartful of memories (and other baggage) while the latter is not (or only potentially so). Goodbyes tend to be more bitter-sweet than hellos in that the former better recognizes what has been, what could have been, and what should have been, while the latter is only laden with what might be. Indeed, all hellos eventually lead to the necessity of goodbyes.
As goodbyes are assured in our world, how seriously do we consider the matter? How well do we practice the exercise of extending goodbyes? How intentionally do we prepare for them?
Seriously considering goodbyes
We’ve all seen it in some shape or form; we all know deep in our minds of its reality: death. It is thought to be the most final and ultimate of goodbyes on earth. A goodbye via death does not have a repeat performance. How seriously is that final goodbye dwelt upon by us (all) who must one day encounter it? What obstructs us from earnestly thinking on the goodbyes we will have to extend to others? Do we conveniently suppose that such goodbyes will magically be enabled at the very end?
The promise of the need for goodbyes remains secure, but the promise of the opportunity or ability to accomplish final goodbyes is a constantly fleeting shadow. The genuine seriousness of considering goodbyes cannot be overly reinforced. To test this sentiment, we might pursue the asking of countless people the world over, and throughout human history, who presumed a future but instead had to succumb to an abrupt death without being afforded final goodbyes. Would they tell us that considering such goodbyes is a serious matter? Would they report that they should have taken seriously this matter of goodbyes with more vigor and forethought? Are we willing to learn from others’ neglect of seriously considering final goodbyes?
Meaningful goodbyes require practice. Thank goodness that we have multiple chances of doing so, at least through little-goodbyes. Whenever we say goodbye to visiting relatives or friends, or to co-workers at end of a day or family members when leaving home for school, work or the store, we are practicing little-goodbyes that can actually help us for the ‘big’, final goodbyes. But for little ones to aid us for final ones there is need for a shift in our thinking: it will take some voluntary effort on our part.
A mother once instructed me on how goodbyes have changed after the death of her adult son. Since the stark recognition of the real possibility of her children’s death (at any time), she explained that each time she extends goodbyes to the remaining adult children, she does so conscientiously knowing that it just may be the final goodbye she is uttering. She no longer sustains the fictional mindset that unexpected death is for other families and not her own. Goodbyes are not ritualistic greetings anymore, and cannot be, in light of her irreversibly altered world. Rather, she now practices goodbyes as substantive and meaningful expressions of affection, blessings and other core messages to those she loves. This will all make more sense when we soberly perceive that any of our goodbyes just may turn out to be the final one. Thus, it is good to practice our final goodbyes.
As with so many things in life, preparation is vital. But how might we prepare for final goodbyes? It may require the projection of its event, some concrete planning of details, and setting into motion practical actions. First, the projection of its event is when we confess that final goodbyes must be enacted one day, sooner or later. This admission in our minds cannot be merely abstract or conceptual in nature, but it has to be based on facts of real losses, whether in our own lives to date or from what we have witnessed in lives of others we know well. The unavoidable final goodbyes must become increasingly convincing to us in order for us to more seriously give it due attention.
Second, some type of concrete planning must ensue to work out the details of final goodbyes. For instance, this might mean for us to deliberately set aside time to be quiet and ponder upon the specific persons who endearingly occupy our lives and their identifiable traits and contributions to the richness of our personhood. How has my parent, sibling, spouse, child, faithful friend supported my development as a human being? What have I been meaning to specifically say to these important persons? What meaningful activities do I still need to engage with them? How can I contribute to enrich their specific lives? All such concrete planning may yield a more fruitful crop during times of final goodbyes.
Third is the setting into motion those practical actions aimed to addressing concrete planning of details that will undergird final goodbyes. This is when our commitment is demonstrated in the real world. We might decide to no longer procrastinate and pick up the phone today to call that person we’ve not spoken with for years. We might choose to tell our spouse tonight of the four specific ways they have improved us as human beings. We can take initiative and approach our teenage children (with whom we may have had a recent blowout over some significant or petty issue) and soberly tell them of the gift they are to us and how it is a privilege for us to have this time to get to know them. Moreover, some of us, and hopefully more than just some of us, may courageously choose to not wait but rather plainly say our final goodbyes to those we care for the most, communicating to them how they mean the world to us and that we want them to know this now instead of waiting for some future date that may never arrive. These early final goodbyes are not far-fetched but have been rendered by people just like us. It turns out that final goodbyes are not just for the final moments but they can be shared at any moment.
I give my (early) final goodbyes to you, dear reader, as I do not know what the rest of this day or tomorrow may befall upon me or you. And so, may you reach for all that is honest, just and good in life. Furthermore, I will also try and remember to speak my final goodbyes to those special persons in my life, sooner than later, as I do not desire to miss the opportunity to do so (since I have with some others in my past). Truly, we tend to say goodbye to an array of people day after day, and so why should we delay in making our goodbyes more meaningful when the day after today is unsure to any of us?
Much courage to us all in giving our final goodbyes when we still can.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul is the Bereavement Coordinator at Alacare Home Health & Hospice based in Birmingham, Alabama. He is married to Esther, and their children are Samantha, Christopher and Andrew. Paul studied mental health counseling and adult education, and has worked in the field of hospice for several years.