I believe in the goodbye.
One afternoon when I was 17, I received a call from three of my best friends. They were calling to tell me that our friend Matt had been in a very serious car accident and hadn’t survived.
Over the course of the next week, I faced many emotional firsts. In my infinite 17-year-old wisdom, I had always considered the goodbye as a matter of prepared separation. A friend moving away or a breakup with a girl had seemed pretty significant before, but I was truly unprepared for the permanence and lack of warning that accompanied death.
As I struggled with a one sided goodbye, I often imagined what I would have said to him if he was still alive. The conclusion that I came to was that it wouldn’t have been any different. I discovered that saying goodbye is more than just grieving and a sense of closure; it’s an opportunity to sculpt a lasting impression to reflect upon forever.
Recently, our family’s beloved dog was diagnosed with terminal cancer that affected her ability to walk. After watching her increasing struggle with usual routine, we made the difficult decision to put her to sleep. As we lay in the yard together the day before the vet arrived, I contemplated our decision and wondered whether it was truly time to say goodbye. Unexpectedly, the dog that for days could barely make the 20-foot trek outside to relieve herself, summoned her strength and began walking. Amazingly, she walked for almost four miles that afternoon, covering nearly every part of our family’s 80-acre ranch. She paused carefully at many points along the way; taking moments to romp through the tall grass, swim in the creek and savor the smell of deer on the ground. She even walked to the house of our neighbors who had kept her many times, and upon finding they were not home, waited patiently by the driveway until they returned. Sadly, it was at this point that her body became exhausted and the pain of walking unbearable. Our neighbors drove us home that evening, but I firmly believe that she would have continued her trek to other favorite places to say her goodbyes before her body finally failed her.
Watching her pass away the next day was not easy, but I found great comfort and solace in the fact that she had put so much effort into saying goodbye to the things and people that mattered most to her.
These two experiences formed my belief that there is a natural instinct to say goodbye instilled in all creatures. Nobody teaches us exactly how to do it, yet it’s something that everyone is forced to do at one point or another. As humans, we seem to take for granted the fact that there will always be a tomorrow, and always an opportunity to make things right. Unfortunately, every last impression, whether it’s big or small, planned or unexpected, could be our last. I believe that a proper goodbye is always worth the time.
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