The last few months have included a few big goodbyes in our life. We lost our beloved yellow kitty very unexpectedly in March. We woke up on a Saturday morning to a very sad and tender little kitty and we had to put him down on Sunday afternoon. The kids barely got to say goodbye to him.
My sister and brother-in-law were in the process of adopting a beautiful baby girl when they baby’s mom decide she was going to keep her. The nursery now sits behind closed doors, the shower invites sit unsent, and the tears remain unkempt. They, and we, had to say goodbye without a goodbye to a little girl with a sweet little face, a mop of black hair and an infectious giggle.
This month, I announced my resignation at our home parish in order to accept a new position at another local parish. While the decision was a solid one affording us a better schedule and a healthier family life, I had been at the parish where we were married and where we had baptized our children for five years. The people there had become more family than friends. Even now as I type this, I cry.
I got to thinking, in a world full of unfulfilled commitments, goodbyes are often taken too lightly. How do I teach my children the importance of goodbye?
I want them to know the significance of goodbye. It is believed that goodbye came from the phrase “God be with you” shortened to “God b’ wy” and eventually ”good b’ wy” and “goodbye”. Perhaps, some suggest, that “good” was introduced into the mix as leave-taking phrases like “good day” and “goodnight” became popular. Very few disagree about the phrase’s origins in a Christian blessing upon a departure. It is worth considering how often we use the phrase and just how often we are in fact blessing another by its implication.
St. Paul, an evangelist for Christ without the benefits of social media, likely found himself facing goodbyes on regular occasion.
But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again.And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you,for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God.Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the church of God that he acquired with his own blood…And now I commend you to God and to that gracious word of his that can build you up and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated. I have never wanted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You know well that these very hands have served my needs and my companions. In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
When he had finished speaking he knelt down and prayed with them all.They were all weeping loudly as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him,for they were deeply distressed that he had said that they would never see his face again. Then they escorted him to the ship. — Acts 20:28-38
We are all sent in mission by the Eucharist. Being sent is not always a physical relocation; it can sometimes be a vocational redirection. We are called by baptism to respond to God’s prompting and responding to God can often mean saying goodbye to people, places and ways of life.
- For our family, it was a goodbye to a dear feline friend and a family discussion about life and death.
- For my sister, and the rest of us, it was a delay in the daily vocation of family life while we learn once again to place our trust in God and not in the plans of humans.
- For me, it is a redirection in the time commitment and community of my parish ministry as we make the practical aspects of our family and married life a priority.
While it is not easy, if God calls us to goodbye, we must trust that God will see us through it. Our scripture tells us that God works all things together for good (Romans 8:28), but we are never promised that discernment and change will be easy. Our human understanding sometimes limits our ability to see beyond the pain of our small section of the big picture. Perhaps some of the pain of goodbye, that feeling of heartbreak, is in fact our emotional way of leaving a little piece of ourselves behind.
Proper goodbyes matter to those giving them and those receiving them. I want my children to learn to make goodbyes count. One of my deep-seated fears in life is God calling me home when I have left a proper goodbye unsaid. Goodbyes mean taking friends along, not leaving them behind. Goodbyes mean taking time to reflect on the experience we’ve had and gleaning the best and worse lessons we’ve learned to take forward. Just like the Native American quote, “take only memories, leave only footprints.” You should strive to leave something behind that makes people, places and experiences better than when you found them.
There are those in our life that would accuse our family of “long Minnesota goodbyes” because we make goodbyes count by ritualizing them. There are hugs all around, gratitude for the time spent, and promises of times to come. Once everyone is loaded in their respective vehicles we continue my grandmother’s ritual of standing on the driveway or doorstop and waving goodbye and blowing kisses until they drive out of sight. It is from this Midwestern tradition that I propose the ritual goodbye, the farewell of gratitude and blessing. It is useful for all occasions and even the everyday goodbye has a method and a meaning.
First, recognize God in the other. You can start simply with goodbye or you can use its original phrasing of God be with you.
Second, be grateful for their presence and purpose. “Thank you for making time for a family meal,” or “I’m so grateful we were able to talk.”
Third, leave them with a blessing or a sense of hope. “Blessings to you and yours!” or even, “Have a great week!”
The sense of touch is also an important part of many goodbyes and as a “hugger” I appreciate it, but it is important to gauge the comfort level of the situation.
A dear friend of mine tells a story about her Irish grandmother. She talks about the school-day lunches they spent with her and how each day as they scampered back to school she would bid them goodbye with an absent wave of her hand. My friend long believed that the gesture was one of “scram” or “go on”. She has since come to know from some of the elders in her family that her grandmother was not dismissing them, but instead “scattering her blessings”. That is what goodbyes should be about; gratefully taking on and sharing the blessings of people, places and experiences we’ve been given.
To those who we’ve said goodbye to in these past months, I am truly grateful and my gratitude exceeds that which I am able to express. I only pray that I am able to share your love and generosity with those on my future path.
Consider these questions: When you have said goodbye to others, have you been a blessing they scatter and send into the world? I invite you to reflect on and share your own goodbye stories here.
Amberly Boerschinger is author of Woman at the Inkwell. She is currently navigating the salty waters of saying goodbye to one parish family and saying hello to a vibrant new one. All the while she fights the losing battle to keep the muddy shoes of her lovable green thumbs out of her house.