We had been visiting my son and his wife and our grandchildren. They live in Devon…a long way from Scotland, where we live (I don’t know how those of you with family abroad cope!). We don’t see them anywhere as much as we’d like to, partly because of the distance and partly because of the cost. We generally spend at least a week with them in the summer, and keep in touch in between, but I feel a bit like a ‘once-a-year-granddad’, which I hate!
Our youngest daughter, who doesn’t see half as much of her brothers (2), sisters (2) and nephews (2) was softly crying in the car. She hates goodbyes at the best of times, and this one was made especially poignant because our early departure time meant she’d had to say goodbyes the night before, and she felt a bit cheated of the full-on goodbye experience.
I was also in the mood for a bit of melancholy, and as I wasn’t driving this leg of the journey home, had the time to think a bit about goodbyes I have known.
My overwhelming feeling was that I’ve had a life filled with far too many goodbyes…
Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will recall my blogs about our frequent moves of home and location. These inevitably bring goodbyes with people and places that are loved and valued…some of whom just might not keep in touch.
You may also recall that a number of years ago, when the older 4 children were quite young, my first marriage broke up. I was fortunate in having a good amount of contact, but as the rebuilding of my life had included a move to another country (well, Wales!) about a 70 mile drive away, weekends and holidays always ended with tearful farewells at the station, at a service station or sometimes at my old family home.
In the early years of my new marriage, my wife was a mature student studying at University in Manchester, so some weekends it was a double-whammy at the station!
The 4 older kids are scattered around the country, and my mum and siblings all still live in the South East so a lot of goodbye-ing goes on there as well.
My Mum, now nearly 90, always weeps at goodbyes…she is a bit sentimental and always has done. In disturbing ways I am now beginning to resemble her as I weep my goodbyes…without the sentimentality, of course (and I sometimes manage to hang on until I’m out of sight too). At least she’s still around to do the goodbye thing.
My Dad died 13 years ago now. His death hit me harder than I ever imagined it would, particularly as it caused me to face up to my own mortality. My eldest son and I went to say our goodbyes before the coffin lid was screwed down, and I remember Joel’s tender, “Goodbye old fellow” to this day.
Some goodbyes are just so final…
…Or are they?
During my recent re-reading of some of Robert Benson’s books I remembered a quote from the bit where Robert was telling the story of his father’s terminal illness.
While he waited for the cancer to finally finish him off he had many visitors, all people that he wanted to spend time with and say a proper “goodbye”.
I’ll let Robert tell the next bit in his own words:
“One afternoon, after some of his friends had just left-friends he well knew he would never see again-my father said to me, “I sure do hate saying goodbye.” He squeezed my hand.
Without thinking, which likely accounts for whatever wisdom there is in the remark, I squeezed back and said, “But if you do not say goodbye, then you cannot say what comes next. And what comes next is always hello.”
From “Between the Dreaming and the Coming True”, chapter 2
Like Benson I am a follower of Jesus, and I share his hope that this life is not all there is.
I also pondered that traditional evangelical Christians would probably want, at this point, to point out that there will be some people for whom the goodbye will be a forever thing, because they will not be with Jesus, but off to another place.
I have always believed we make a choice about where we spend eternity, which also affects how we live now. I’ve also had an inkling that it’s not just about a decision we make at a particular moment in our lives, but rather about the life we live from that moment on. I’ve also been very aware of God’s grace, not just in an ‘I’ve read about it’ kind of way, but in the way that means I know I’ve been on the receiving end of God’s forgiveness, healing and love much more often that I’ve ever deserved it. That’s why some Christians think I’m a bit dodgy, I think.
Anyway, I came across another quote from Benson that sits well with me.
Father Kelly had come to talk to a group of students; Benson was among them.
The priest was talking about God’s irresistible love and grace (Shades of Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”). He doubted that any of us could be so bad that there is not enough love and mercy in God to warrant our forgiveness. Benson goes on to say:
“None of us knows what happens to us when we cross the last border, so to speak, and enter the world that only God has seen, the world that is home to the Dreamer. Are there any of us the Dreamer has dreamed into being that the Dreamer does not want to come true? Perhaps there is not enough forgiveness in heaven for liars and adulterers and cheats and murderers. Perhaps there is not enough for writers and other social misfits, either. But perhaps there is.
One of us who was listening asked Father Kelly what that sort of thinking did to his concept of heaven and hell. “Oh, I believe there is a hell alright,” he said, flashing his grin again, as though he had heard this question before, and from some folks who were more theologically imposing than we were. “I just do not believe there is anyone in it.”
From “Between the Dreaming and the Coming True”, chapter 4
“Teach us, dear Lord, to number our days
That we may apply our hearts unto wisdom
O satisfy us early with your mercy
That we may rejoice and be glad all of our days.
Canticle based on Psalm 90,
Midday Prayer from Celtic Daily Prayer