A couple of years later, during a conversation with a friend whose mother had also passed away, I experienced contradictory feelings. His mom had suffered from a chronic disease that kept her around long enough for him to say goodbye and “all the things I wanted to say to her.”
I envied him. I wished I had a chance to say to my mom all the things I wanted to say.
And then it dawned on me that I may have forgotten some of those things anyway. Life is like that. Saying ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’ is mostly what I wished I said to her. We’re always wiser after sailing on rougher seas.
I looked back at all of our happy or silent times together, early morning tea, Christmas baking, walking and chatting or hugging after a long time of not seeing each other.
I realized that I did say, over time, most of the things I meant to say. Almost all of them, in fact. Not all at once, but who cares, I wouldn’t have remembered all of that anyway in one go. But, I did say thank you.
My dad on the other hand, has been chronically ill for almost eight years. Every time I visit him, I know it could be the last time I see him and yet it took me a couple of years to know that whispering a soft goodbye on my way out will not do.
I was not really saying goodbye; deep down, I was secretly hoping he would be around next time I went to see him.
Selfish, perhaps, but I wanted him around because I loved him and thought that saying goodbye would somehow push him toward that threshold most of us fear and don’t know how to handle.
Saying what you have to say to your loved one, who might not be around next time you visit, is a gift.
More than an acknowledgement of their role in your life, saying goodbye is act of gratefulness. It’s not about them or you — but you and them together.
We cannot push ailing or elderly loved ones closer to that invisible-but-real threshold. Now I know that. Life happens around us; it follows its course and we should celebrate every moment we have, and had.
Every time I visit my dad, and the reality of his precarious situation becomes more real than before, I know that I owe him something different than sadness and a long face.
I wished for a longer time with my mom, and my grandparents also. I never got to say goodbye to them. Life tailored it that way, but part of me wanted to shield my children from the experience.
Often parents think they have to protect their children from the sadness of life. It is true that losing loved ones is one of the saddest things, but children should be allowed to honour the process and grow gratefulness from it.
It is much easier to keep good memories alive when we have a chance to acknowledge our loved one’s presence by saying thank you along the way and by saying goodbye when the time comes.
When we find the strength to say goodbye, again and again if we have to, we realize that every time is different. It gives us a better grip when it comes to understanding the mysterious rhythm of life.
I have learned that the many thank yous along the way are more valuable than that final package of soul-ripping thank yous and goodbyes.
I hope I can show my gratefulness for the times I had alongside people I loved, for the things I learned, and for the valleys and hills we crossed together, and teach my sons to carry themselves the same way.
Being aware of the finite enriches us in a way that allows appreciation and proper celebration of beginnings and ends and every day in between.
Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on August 17, 2013 under the same title.