A death, a departure, an overseas offer – some of the goodbyes said recently. Without the opportunity to say goodbye – what do we do? Pray, and hope they get the chance to hear?Leave the words unsaid? Write it all down, send it in a letter (email)?
Standing on the cold concrete and waving as the vehicle leaves the home base, that’s where the last one happened. Arms raised, mouths tight in the rictus of a smile, but the road moves on, people move on, life moves on – and we say goodbye.
Sometimes, it’s forever, and Granddad won’t be back, even though his voice lingers and his sounds linger and his smell lives on. Open the wardrobe and his clothes are still there, feel through the pockets and you’ll find the little notes for who wants what for Christmas or Birthday, you’ll find marbles that ended up on the roof of the patio (how?) that he kept as a prize, or the eye of the favourite doll that’s too old and delicate to play with, and the little piece of ruby that was lost from the ring/earring – but he found it and knows how to put it back together.
Never going to get done now, because he’s gone. Who gets to be the gramps now? Who gets to the the one with the big lap and the open ears and the wide wink? Who?
At least in the modern era, children are allowed to have their say at the farewell ceremony, they get to close the book with the words they can speak to him one last time. They see and they know and they don’t have to worry that’s he’s alone or cold or afraid.
That was the worst. Then came the departure, where it looks good on the surface, but just below is the rocky reef waiting to tear up the carefully laid nets of constraint. The wheels wait like a chariot as the belongings go in, carefully packed to balance and make the best use of limited space. The dark morning and cold air. The distant touch and words that reek of fear and pain. Goodbye, we say, we feel, we burn.
The wheels turn, the vehicle moves away, and part of the heart splits into little shards that pierce the lungs so sharply that it’s hard to breathe, but you can’t show it, can’t let it out. It has to be civilised.
Turns the corner, the last sight of the dark head that has been so familiar for so many years. ‘Goodbye,’ you whisper, hoping you’re wrong. Praying you’re wrong.
The final piece, the third thing – ‘cos it always happens in threes, right? – and the offer of a job in a country so far away they have lunch when it’s midnight here. The communication that has to wait for hours, that doesn’t have the zing of a conversation, that has a hollow sound over the e-talk. Too good to pass up.
So they go, and leave behind the scars. Some permanent, some fresh and deep, some self-inflicted.
We say goodbye.