Contemplating fear and death I guess it was only natural to think about saying goodbye. Recently a good friend passed. I’m guessing we knew her for more than 30 years. Four or five years ago she moved from near us to a delightful city 65 miles north. There were other reasons to drive north. Her condo borders on a lovely nature conservatory with pristine walking trails. It is an easy drive on the interstate and not too far from a wonderful state park on Lake Michigan and a super museum in town. Lots of reasons to visit. And she seemed set for life.
We visited regularly but, as is often the case, not often enough. Last fall she became ill. It took a while but once she was hospitalized they discovered she had pneumonia, probably had it for a while, and then uncovered a critical underlying condition – leukemia. By the time she was strong enough to undergo chemo, it was too late. We visited her several times while she was in the hospital and in rehab. And then again when she was able to go home for a brief visit. Then she was back in the hospital. A severe winter storm prevented another visit and then she died rather suddenly. We never really had a chance to say goodbye.
Not easy. Yes, she’s often in our thoughts. I think of her when I give a coin every morning in memory of all those that have died, keeping her in mind in particular. But it’s difficult. Her brother gave us her hoya plant, the one that she had from her mother. We’re making cuttings to give to others. But when we look at the hanging leaves it will be more by way of “hello” rather than goodbye.
I think of all the missed opportunities to have grown closer. Too old for pajama parties, too sober for “letting our hair down,” and too busy over the years for having another cup of coffee or even chatting on the phone a few minutes longer.
So I’m wondering if I had been able to change this relationship or others, either as a couple, she my wife’s colleague at work, or individually, if it could have made a difference. A difference for me in regard to my fears about death. And what about other friends and acquaintances? Before I have to say goodbye to them OR they to me, have I given us a fair chance with the hellos?
Remember Mr. Roger’s singing, “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you.”
Another day in the neighborhood. Neighbors – what a wonderful idea. Others helping, covering your back, shoveling your walk when you can’t, taking in your mail when you’re out of town. Could go a long way to chasing away a lot of fears. And knowing they’ll be there in case of an emergency. Better than family in many respects – they’re there next door. You can wave over the fence, borrow a cup of sugar, walk dogs together, share a beer in the backyard. Family can live miles away, in other states or countries.
So it’s tough saying goodbye when you’ve never had a chance to share a really good hello. Maybe that’s where I was going when I started writing about this weeks ago. Fear, that isolation of being alone, and then dying, with no one to offer comfort or hold my hand. And now struggling to say goodbye realizing that it may well be about saying hello in the first place.
I think writing this helps me. I’m going to find that time to have a cup of coffee with another more often, pick up the phone and dial, and try to be more present when relating to those people who are already near and dear to me. I know this is something that won’t happen overnight, patterns of fear and running have been in place for a long time. But I can try, thinking about the missed goodbyes and trying to say hello.
And you can too.
Ken was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He’s a homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers. Ken is a writer and his literary works can be found at https://www.kmkbooks.com/
He welcomes feedback on his articles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.