Goodbyes can be tough. Ever notice them at the airport? Lovers, friends, family parting? Heartrending. I wonder their backstories, their reasons for going, the length of time they’ll be gone.
Ah but that final goodbye? You hear people say this sometimes: “Oh, well at least you got there in time to say goodbye to so-and-so.” Did that help? I’ve heard people talk of peace in the room, a feeling of spirit leaving. I can’t say I’ve experienced that, but I was present for the death of a dear uncle. I encouraged him in my mind to go, told him we’d be fine. He’d hung on, sick, for so very long. Then I felt guilty afterward for setting him free.
So yes, I’ve lived long enough to participate in short, long and nonexistent goodbyes. When my late husband Hugh passed, suddenly and unexpectedly, out west on business, I got a body back to say goodbye to, but most certainly his spirit was long gone. That’s how it felt anyway. Empty.
I’ve been rereading some old journals. The time travel feel of it can be alarming, exhilarating and disorienting. I mean, there I am, in 2001. Hugh is very much alive, breathing and purchasing another big toy (34’ Sea Ray) that we have to put insurance on. And my teenage kids have stolen every livelong pen from my office.
I came across a poem I’d written for a fictional character’s death in April, 2001. It’s shocking in its foreshadowing quality; it would have been perfect to read at Hugh’s funeral in late 2004. I’d forgotten about it because the next entry in my journal is this:
Now I don’t like the poem. Why does that happen? Something that felt, sounded so good on Friday and now on Monday it sounds sappy, simple and cheap. I must work harder.
A harsh critic? Wow. But discernment is a thing creatives must rely on for their work to evolve. That and a good editor, I suppose. But, here I am, reading it 16 years later and today’s Rita doesn’t think it “sounds sappy, simple and cheap”.
It speaks to this: we may have to say a final goodbye to a body, with or without spirit, but for those real close to that spirit the body once housed? Spirit remains. We can’t really say goodbye. Impossible! The spirits of our loved ones exist everywhere: a full moon, a brilliant sunset, a cool forest, a pristine lake. Hugh’s spirit exists inside of me, his best qualities emerging when the going gets tough or I’m really missing him.
Today I offer up this poem in memory of Steven Matthews, 43, co-owner of Arva Flour Mills, who died in a tragic accident on Friday, May 5th. May he rest in peace.
Down on our knees we wonder why
We weren’t allowed to say goodbye
Dear friend, the guardian of our dreams
It seems you’ve earned your wings to fly
Did a stallion gallop in the night
And give your soul the power for flight
Or did a different kind of fire
Conspire to steal from us your light
Your light shines on throughout the sky
And in unwinged animals that fly
You see your spirit never ends
With friends who cannot say goodbye.