Ma enjoying her morning tea the summer before she died.
Goodbyes can be hard for me. Especially when I’m saying them to someone I love. Then they don’t feel very good at all. But within every goodbye is the welcoming possibility of the next hello. Saving grace.
Some goodbyes are more difficult than others. Some are temporary. Short lived. But others are permanent. Never another opportunity to bid someone a fond adieu. These are the most difficult. The heartbreakers. The sorrowful ones. And sadly unavoidable. Sooner or later, it happens to all of us.
If we’re lucky there may only be a few really big goodbyes in our lifetime. But along the journey there are many little ones. These are the fine hairline fractures of the heart. The tiny losses that are barely detected by our minds but somewhere deep inside our spirt, there is a knowing. And with each one, life changes. Maybe not in a gigantic shrieking way. But there is a shift. It’s the winds of changes, Dylan sang about. And things are never quite the same as they were. I think we record these moments in our soul. Some we bury deep. Others we record for posterity. Capture in black and white. Or record in living color. And play back. Again and again. But no matter how many times we practice we are never ever truly prepared for the last time.
We probably say goodbye to someone everyday. I know I do. In the morning my husband shouts up the stairs on his way out the door for work. “See ya later,” he calls. I’m in the bathroom readying myself for work, toothbrush in hand and I holler back, “have a good day!” He responds in kind, “you too!” I can hear the back door slam on his way out. Hello, where’s my kiss.
My youngest daughter does a similar thing as she leaves for school, or to meet with friends. “Bye Mom. Love you!” she sings. Her sweet voice, music to my ears. “Love you too dear!” I trill. I could be anywhere at this point. Applying mascara in front of the bathroom mirror. Throwing on a pair of skinny red jeans for work. Rummaging through my closet for a clean top to go with them. Gathering up the bag of goodies I need for work. I hear the door slam. I hear her say “hello” to her best friend. They giggle. They talk loud. They’re young.
At work there are numerous goodbyes. Business associates and colleagues come and go. I wish them well. “Have a good day!” “Enjoy your week!” “Your weekend!” Cheers and tootle-dos. And with each “so long, farewell, it’s been good to know you” there is always the promise of tomorrow. Another day to say hello.
Some goodbyes are rites of passage. Like when my son moved out of the house and in with his buddies. He was a young man by then. But that’s not what I saw as he moved his things out of his bedroom. I saw my little raisin-eyed boy who loved to rub his hands together with glee whenever his favorite team scored a goal. I saw the little boy who held my hand on the way to school his first day. I saw our entire life together flash before me as he closed the door. Just like they say happens when you die. I saw it all in an instant. Hello, can we press rewind.
A similar thing happened when my oldest daughter left to go to college. My son just moved across town. But my daughter moved across the Georgia Strait. In theory still close. But there was this inconvenient body of water between us, which meant we couldn’t just hop in the car and be there in ten minutes. This geographic situation introduced all the “special occasion” goodbyes. Her birthday and Thanksgiving weekend combo. Christmas vacation. The quick trip over for a winter weekend. Easter and maybe spring break if luck is on our side. The long weekend in May or Mother’s Day. Choose one. Canada Day and little sister’s birthday BBQ if time permits. Time. Never enough. But we’ve got memories by the truckload. And lots of hugs and kisses at the ferry terminal or the back door. “Love you dear.” “Love you too Mom.” Hello, can we have more special occasions.
By the time I had these rites of passage and special occasion goodbyes with my children, I was already well practiced with Ma and The Old Man. I remember the first one like it was yesterday. It was the hardest. Painful doesn’t even come close to describing it. When my son was three we moved to the Westcoast for the first time. My sister was (and still is) living in Victoria. The plan was to move in with her and start a new life. It was time to cut the apron strings. And stand on my own two feet. Embrace adulthood by moving three thousand miles from home. It was all very exciting.
The departure scene at the airport is imbedded in my memory. Forever. Leaving Ma was hard enough. But leaving with her grandson in tow was agonizing. She had helped raise him and he meant the world to her. We hugged. We cried. We waved goodbye. My son and I got on the plane. I wanted to jump on the next one back. I didn’t. But I did return a year later with a new husband. Hello, we’re home.
There would be more moves over the years and many goodbye hugs and kisses. All in preparation for the big one.
Ma died a year and a half after she had a massive heart attack. Until that fateful day she always seemed so young and energetic. She was one of those people whose age was indefinable. We all thought she’d live to one hundred, including Ma. Her heart attack was a shock to everyone, including Ma. In fact, once Ma was out of the hospital and recovering nicely, she immediately went into denial. “Oh I didn’t have a heart attack,” she’d say. “Oh but you did Ma,” we’d say. She never listened. And either way, she seemed in pretty good shape for someone who may, or may not, have lost over 70% of her heart muscle. Hello, who knows best.
The year and a half that Ma lived after her heart attack was a gift from God. Not just for her. But for me as well. Had she died instantly that day in early August, I’m not sure I would have fared as well as I did. This long goodbye. This period of grace from God was the time I needed to come to grips with my mother’s mortality. Despite her youthful appearance and vigorous disposition, she was in her eighties. She was elderly. And no one, not even Ma, get’s out of here alive. That year and a half was a sweet gentle loving time. I grew to appreciate the quiet moments. I learned to sit and be still. I learned to watch and witness. I grew a grateful heart. I learned to let go.
A few months after her heart attack my sister brought Ma out to the Westcoast for a visit. Because she had been doing so well, we thought this would be a good thing for her. She never did return home. Never saw The Old Man again. She pined for both. One minute she was doing really well and the next she was severely ill. Quite quickly we ran out of time to get her back home. She was stuck in Oz. Her last Christmas was spent in the hospital. We spent the best part of it there with her. It was a sad time. But it was wonderful too. Miraculous. Not because Ma’s heart was repaired. But because mine was transformed. Permanently. I would never take life for granted again.
Ma enjoying an intimate moment with her great granddaughter just days before she died.
In the days before her death my oldest daughter brought my granddaughter to visit Ma in the hospital. They couldn’t get their eyes off each other. There they were. The one leaving earth and the one who had just arrived in a profound intimate exchange. No words necessary. Just a meeting of the souls. Kindred spirits. Evermore linked.
Hello. I love you.