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Apr 21, 2013

Thoughts | Pauses We Don't Choose & Saying Goodbye

{california, may 2012}

It's been awhile since I've written in this space.  I wanted these thoughts to percolate and permeate and penetrate before I shared them... I also wanted them to be just right.  However, if we hold off doing/saying/being things until they're perfect, we'll never do/say/be.  I need to remember this more.  

Hopefully the following lines will help you understand why I chose to "hole up" for a while... there are some "pauses" in life that we don't choose, but they can be altogether good for the soul... thanks for your patience.

The Process of Saying Goodbye

Is an end a pinpoint?  A period to finish a sentence?  Or it is something longer - like the grand finale at the fireworks show, or the sun setting so slow it seems to be moving through a substance much more viscous than the backdrop of the air we breathe?

Four years ago this past 7th of April, we started to say goodbye.  Her unexpected death would take a little piece of him too, for though he was already showing signs of dementia, he knew she was gone... her absence in that old farmhouse practically shouted.  Even his mostly-deaf ears could hear.  Sixty-one years with someone... a part of you has to die too... how could it not?  So many memories that, even if he forgot some, which he was apt to do at 87, there'd always be something there to remember about her.

We kept him at home for the next seven months.  He cried less for her and more for the things he was losing.  He said goodbye to the freedom of driving, to being able to walk to the cow-yard out back, read the headlines of the newspaper, to being able to walk around the house without help... everyday things we take for granted - and thus, we said goodbye to some of the familiar things we knew about him - the way he talked to his cows, his trips to Pennsylvania, talking about football and the news...

Then pneumonia came to visit and he went to the hospital and stayed.  And stayed and stayed.  We said goodbye to him walking altogether, and slowly, very slowly along the way, to him recognizing us on each visit.  He got transferred to a nursing home and would be there for over three years.  Along the way, we grew to be familiar with less and less communication: it was a good day when he'd light up upon seeing you walk in the room, when he'd say "good!" when he got his beloved Tootsie Pops, or he pushed back with those still-active farmer muscles when you'd exercise his arms/dance them around.

Then, those last few weeks this March, we said goodbye to much communication at all - more pneumonia took away phrases and "stories" and left raspy sounds of pain and confusion.  He could still squeeze your hand, but most days was too tired to even get to the chocolate part of the Tootsie Pop - highly abnormal.  He was transferred back and forth from the hospital to the nursing home several times that last week, and we knew that time of a final goodbye could be coming soon.  One month ago tomorrow, on a Friday night, my brother and his wife met my mom and I at the nursing home.  When we left, B said, "Sleep good buddy".  I didn't physically say goodbye.  No one did.  But we wore that heavy thought as we drove home that night because the possibility was so real. 

When the call came shortly after we arrived home, it was still surprising.  There were tears - some sad, some of relief.  Several days later, when the bugle sounded out taps, there were more tears.  There lie what he left behind - the body of a father, grandfather, uncle, farmer, soldier, believer... and Tootsie Pop aficionado.  Witnessing and being involved in the long slow decline had not completely prepared me for that moment, but I also recognized that the process of saying goodbye would still continue - that it didn't end when I placed the rose on the casket and said, "goodbye buddy" - it's still happening now.  When, on Sundays, I think about my week and when I need to be at the nursing home and realize I won't be going...  When I walk into the farmhouse and am just greeted by a shy little cat...  When I hold my cousin's new baby, a namesake to my grandfather and late uncle...

No matter how quickly or slowly someone leaves us, the process of saying goodbye is extensive, maybe for our dear sakes.  For processing, for healing, for letting the love percolate and permeate and penetrate.

{Gramps, October 2012}