It is so difficult to say goodbye. Thoughts of missed opportunities, of dreams that were never realized, of hurts that never mended, all come to the surface when someone close to us dies. And we don’t want to say goodbye because it is so final. It is especially distressful with the loss of a child.
We try to find the words that will offer comfort. We attempt to rationalize the time allotted so that it has some meaning. We soothe our pain by accepting words of encouragement from friends and family.
The ancients attempted to offer some insight by stating that every man has three friends — his children, his money and his good deeds. So, when the time comes to leave this world, he calls to his children who inform him that no one can conquer death. Next is his money. He then cries out to his savings, asking them to save him, and the money replies that wealth cannot save you from death. Finally, he calls on his good deeds and they offer an understanding that upon his arrival in the world to come, his good deeds will precede him to offer help to his soul.
Saying goodbye has three aspects — that which we say to our friends and families, that which we say to ourselves and horror of horrors, what we say to a child. What we say to others conveys the regrets and wishes that were never fulfilled, the sorrows of a life that was filled with tragedies and the joys that gave us laughter and happiness. To ourselves we often express feelings of guilt and remorse: Have we been a true friend or a loving companion? But we’re also thankful for having been part of that life.
Most of all, to say goodbye to a child is the most harrowing experience because it is not what is expected. Memory mingled with sadness overcomes our ability to fully comprehend the magnitude of the devastation.
While we attempt to say goodbye, we want to know that it is not final. Perhaps each year, we light a candle to remind us of that special relationship that continues. The flame of a loved one’s existence is never extinguished. The glow from the candle reminds us of the brightness that our child, my child, brought with him as he breathed his first breath.
In the final analysis, what we attempt to do in saying goodbye is to keep the memory alive, for that is the essence of immortality. Most of us will never have a monument erected to our memory. Most of us will not have something written about us for future generations to read. But some will have a section of a piece of land dedicated to reminding everyone of our existence. Some will be scattered to the winds confirming the eternalness of life.
And we search for answers to why. Why he left so soon, why we suffer, why is death so final and life so temporary? In one instant we open our eyes and the next they close — never to be opened again until God touches his face, and the glory of God fills his soul.
We are immortal because eternity is the natural succession of our existence today. We are immortal because life never ends. We are immortal because memory remains the link between life and death. We are immortal because we are created in the Divine image and as God is forever, so are we.
Saying goodbye is painful because we suffer a loss and there is a void that seems irreplaceable. Saying goodbye seems so final. Perhaps that is why we should say farewell, not goodbye. Farewell doesn’t appear to be so decisive, giving us an opportunity to never forget.
Perhaps we should try to understand that while there is a loss, there is also thankfulness. We should be thankful that the one we lose has been part of our life and for us having had the opportunity, forever how long, to share the journey of life even as we say farewell.
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