When Goodbye Simply isn't a Big Enough Word
I’m flying to Denver to celebrate a wonderful life, to say an unwanted goodbye.
Over the loudspeaker, a voice says we’re about to land. Not wanting to miss the view, I tug at the plastic shutter on my airplane window. Once open, the sight takes my breath away.
I try to choreograph my emotions, mixed with everything from sorrow to adventure. The snow outside my window is as familiar as my right hand, and like yesterday, I see my first big goodbye.
It was 1991, during one of the worst snowstorms in memory. We packed our 15-month-old son into a Chevy Cavalier and left our only known home in Minnesota for Tucson, Arizona. My husband landed his first job as a professor, so we bought a house with an unobstructed view of Pusch Ridge, and the next seven years were glorious. We had two more children, two girls, and life was good. See the view from the back of our house!
When it was time to move to Georgia, we said goodbye to our mountain. An intimate relationship for me, as working at the kitchen sink, the view kept me company for hours, and I will never separate that part of my life from my mountain. When it was the day to leave, my husband wanted to get in the car and go, but I insisted on washing the floor. A gift to the house that had loved us so well. I cried when we drove away, turning to look at it as long as I could, then crying for months, maybe even years after.
Those goodbyes differed from this one. Our previous goodbyes closed doors but opened others. Though bittersweet, there was a promise of new life. At our young age, we needed these changes to usher us into the next chapter of our lives.
But isn't saying an eternal goodbye different when it's for a man in his prime after a brief illness? As a woman of faith, I believe we will meet again in heaven, but that doesn’t help the void of now, the absence of a friend, the energy of his presence. The black hole is too large and too unknown. While I lean on trust, it’s hard. So much harder for his wife, his children.
Goodbye simply isn’t a big enough word.
His Celebration of Life is scheduled for the afternoon, but now it’s early Sunday morning, and I’m in church, sitting next to my husband and son, the same pair that I traveled with some thirty-two years before when saying goodbye to Minnesota. It’s at the end of Mass, and a man with a gentle tenor settles down the congregation after Holy Communion. His sweet voice showers us with a new rendition of an old song, Amazing Grace. I must turn my head to see for myself the man who possesses such a gift that stills a large group of people.
I smile, hearing the lyrics about being set free; chains dissolved, full of unending love, longer than ten thousand years.
And the floodgates open. I can’t even be embarrassed. This is too raw, too real.
The tears are for all my goodbyes. The snow in Minnesota, the mountain of my young motherhood. But on top, are my tears for our loved one, set free far too young. The celebrations he will miss and for all of us will be less bright. There is no replacing the loved one we lost.
This is a Plan B none of us wanted.
Jesus lived in a real place, in a real time, and taught us how to treat each other and invited us to an abundant life. Then he died, and on the third day rose and walked this earth for another forty days to continue to model a joyful life.
While our friend will not walk this earth again, maybe those he left behind can resurrect a new life, a Plan B, and have that abundance once again. Perhaps we can continue his journey.
Could these sayings from our friend help build our plan B?
Show up, work hard and be nice
Take your kids sledding at midnight
Bring your dog to school
Keep a joke book
Never stop dancing the ‘disco’
Pick up snakes
Wear whatever you like
Canoe the Huzzah
Bring coffee to your loved one (in bed)
Buy Manager’s Specials at the grocery store
Have a pet raccoon
Live in another country
Bring up the rear on the uphill
and lead the pack on the downhill
So this Easter Sunday, let us consider new beginnings after unwanted goodbyes.
Especially if it’s a Plan B we didn’t ask for or didn’t want.
At first, carrying a memory may not feel like enough.
But if we look, could we find moments of joy?
Snake handling optional.