The Reluctant Goodbye

Dominica Sunset Copyright 2008 by Blair Atherton

Dominica Sunset
Copyright 2008 by Blair Atherton

There he lay on his death bed. He had a wonderful life of failure and triumph, sorrow and joy, as well as disappointment and blessings. As he reflected on his life, he began to have feelings of profound loss. Not because of regret or for the things that might have been, but because of having to leave behind those he loves.

He had said his difficult goodbyes to other members of the family. Only the youngest two members remained to be seen for the last time.

Saving them for last seemed apt: as one road comes to an end, another begins. It provided a reminder of just how far he had come from the innocence of childhood to the spiritual trials of adulthood, and finally to the enlightened end of a long life well lived.

As these thoughts washed through his mind, his two youngest grandchildren came into the room to visit. They were quite young—barely in grade school. They were too young to have a grasp of what it means to die. He struggled with how to tell them he was going to have to leave them.

“Come here you two. Get in the bed with me,” he said. “I was hoping you would come to see me today.”

The two of them, a boy and a girl, climbed up into the bed—one on each side—-and laid their heads on his chest. As they did this, a powerful wave of love welled up inside him and he had to force back the tears that strained to explode forth under the force of his emotions. He did not want to ruin these last moments with these two that he loved so much.

For a few minutes he could not speak. Then he said, “There is something I want the two of you to know. I love you both more than anything, but I must go away and I will not see you again for a long time. I don’t want to leave you, but sometimes we must do things that we would rather not do. I want you to know that when I am gone I continue to love you, just like you keep loving me when we are apart, right?”

In unison they said, “Yes grandpa.”

“Always remember the fun we had and how much I love you. While we are apart, you will be wrapped in a blanket of my love that will keep you warm and safe always. Does that sound good?”

“Yes grandpa,” they replied.

“But when will we see you again?” asked the little girl.

“I don’t know when you will see me, but I will always be with you because of the love that we have for each other.”

The little boy said, “I love you grandpa. I’m going to miss you.”

“Me too,” said the little girl.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much I am going to miss you guys. I will be watching over you from afar and I will always be with you in your hearts and minds, and you in mine.”

When the children left and the door closed behind them, he closed his eyes and drifted away. He left behind tears running down his check for the sorrow his departure will cause, and a bit of a smile on his face for finally getting it right.

Author’s note

This is a fictional dialogue. Although the story focuses on the little children,  the sentiment expressed in the dialogue is meant to span all age groups.


The Night is Too Long

_DSC0697 Super Moon 5x5

Super Moon

Copyright 2013 by Blair Atherton

What goes through the mind of someone who is dying slowly over weeks, months, or years of a disease like cancer? We try to imagine what they think about, but we can’t really. We try to find things to talk about to take their mind off of the pain, sorrow, and anxiety, but we can’t be sure they are listening.

What goes through a person’s mind when they know they will not get better, only weaker. What goes through someone’s mind when they realize that their independence is gone and they can never go home again? What goes through a person’s mind when they know they must leave their loved ones behind not knowing if they will ever see them again?

We do our best to make them comfortable, bring them foods they like, and celebrate their lives through old family photos. They may cry in response to old familiar songs that elicit a host of fond memories of the past. We try to tell them that they should be happy and thankful for these things remembered. Still they grieve for days gone by that cannot be relived. They lament the empty days ahead in a life fading away slowly and methodically.

We see their jaw and lips quiver as they reach for a bite of food. Their hands shake as they reach for their glass. We struggle to conceal our sorrow in seeing someone who was so strong and steady, now so tentative and frail. We try to be strong but sometimes after we’ve gone home, the night is too long and we break down. But that doesn’t matter because the night is always too long for them.

We want very much to somehow ease their transition, but we don’t know how. So we go back to be with them the next day and the next in the hope that our presence will somehow make them feel better and less anxious. All we can really do is let them know how much we love them.

What is going through their minds? We try to imagine, but we can’t. The night is too long.