There simply wasn’t time to finish the sentence or to make sure he had everything he needed: watch, money, schedule, notes, clean underwear. I had planned on having a nice, leisurely moment or two, simply gazing into one another’s eyes, memorizing the lines that come in the crease of the face and breathing in the faint smell of soap and body talc. I had planned on a longer hug than I got, and I had planned on saying something more profound than, “Be careful.”
But, as usual, the day got away from me, and even though it was early, I was already behind. So, in the end, it was the dash to the door and the hurried-up hug that separated us that day. A kiss on the check, a wave of the hand, and we were apart; each turning our attention to our separate appointments, meetings and tasks. I didn’t get to say goodbye. It was, in other words, the beginning of another ordinary day in the hurry, rush-rush world we so comfortably live in. It was so ordinary.
But it was not to remain ordinary and now the entire world will long remember that day September 11, 2001 as a day of endings, a day of beginnings, a day of terror, a day of death. The bombings of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the aborted attempt at another site by terrorists flying jetliners loaded with men, women and children will take its place in history as one of the most horrifying terrorists activities of all time. To use human beings as weapons of destruction is simply unthinkable, unimaginable, indescribable, inhuman, insane.
Forever, we are all changed. We weep for those who died, for those whose loved ones were lost in the destruction, for those whose hopes were crushed in the falling towers. We weep for those whose dreams of tomorrow will never be realized, for those who witnessed the horror and for those who felt it. We weep for those who lost their freedom, their spirit, their lives. We weep for ourselves as we realize how little we can save of any one day and how much hurt we can carry for one lifetime. We weep for the deaths of thousands and for the death of innocence for all of us.
It was just an ordinary day in early fall. And now, like so many other days, it is etched into the history books for the future to know. Each generation has had their historical marks to guide them through the passage of time and now September 11, 2001, has become one of those dates carved into the memory of every living soul. It was a dark day, and for many, the light has not yet returned.
It began as such an ordinary day, and now I’m wondering why my own grief has come back these past months as I have watched those newly struggling with their hurts. Am I grieving again because I did not “finish” my own grief journey? Did I fool myself into thinking that I was “over” my own grief! Or, am I “re-grieving” because I simply ache for the loss of life, security and innocence for our entire nation?
I have listened to the news and read the accounts of those directly involved in the bombings and have shared their grief as they face their own uncertain futures. I have listened to the ache of thousands of hearts who, like me, didn’t get to say goodbye that day. Sometimes, we never get to say goodbye, and at other times, we have the opportunity and it just doesn’t seem to be the “right word.” So much grief has been spent on not saying a farewell. So much additional hurt has been felt because someone did not get to say goodbye. It was an ordinary day, and there was no special reason to say goodbye. No one knew it would be their last day. Hardly anyone ever does.
Over and over again, we have heard stories of cell phone calls made in the last horrifying moments to loved ones on the ground. We have read the stories of those calls made by brave men and women as they faced their last moments of life. Sermons have been preached and poetry written about saying goodbye. As a therapist, I have listened to thousands of bereaved lament their last words spoken to loved ones, and so many of them wept in grief over not saying goodbye.
Why do we spend so much time and grief over not saying goodbye? Why do we wash away the words we did get to say over a lifetime of loving someone with the single lament, “But I didn’t get to say goodbye”? Why are those words so important that the lack of them creates a lifetime of additional hurt and pain?
Twenty-five years ago I did get to say goodbye. I knew the end of our son’s life was approaching, and I got the chance to give one last hug and say one last sentence. I got the chance to say goodbye and I didn‘t take it. In the last moments of my son’s life, and years later, of my parents’ lives, I did not say goodbye. Goodbye? Why would I want to say goodbye? I wasn’t through saying hello!
With the very last breath of my son’s life, I simply said, “I love you.” I was able to be with my mom in her final hours, and I did not say goodbye. I said, “I love you.” And although I was not with my dad when he died, the last words I shared with him as I left his home on what was to be his last night, I kissed him and said, “I love you.” And that is exactly what those cell phone calls said, too. They called to tell the world what was happening and then, in the last breath, they said, “I love you!”
Let go of the hurt you are experiencing if you did not get to say goodbye. You would not have said it even if you had had the chance! You would have said, “I love you.” Goodbye is simply too final, too harsh, too forever. Surely our loved ones knew we loved them. Surely our loved ones knew we cared. And even if you don’t believe they knew, you can do something about that right now.
Go outside, find your special star, and with all your might, whisper, speak or yell out loud, “I LOVE YOU!” Trust me, the universe is listening, and your words of love will travel far to reach the heart of those no longer within hug’s reach. I guess you could yell goodbye, too, if you really want to…but why? Why let the grief of not saying goodbye rob you of the memories of what you did get to say and how you lived your lives together? Why let not saying goodbye steal away the joy of knowing your loved one was in your life and is still a thread in your fabric, to be woven forever around your heart?
Goodbye? I’d rather live my life so that my last words are, “I love you.” We never know when an ordinary day will turn into a day that gets marked down in the family history as a not-so-ordinary day. But all of us can live our lives so we can leave with few regrets. Don’t let the events of the past several months rob you of your hope, your passion, your joy in living. Let it become a lesson for all of us to live our lives as if there were only moments left…because that is all there really are anyway.
Moments…just moments, one after another, each special and sacred in its own way, each waiting to be etched forever on our memories or lost in the sea of millions of other ordinary moments. I learned so long ago that any moment can be the last one, so I no longer waste too many of my moments. Oh yes, there are days when I simply plod through the moments, not even aware of their passing. It often takes a cataclysmic event to shake me out of my reverie and reawaken me to the specialness of each moment. Hopefully, those shake-up events are not as devastating as those of September 11, 2001. But even that day can have meaning if each of us makes a commitment to never let another moment pass without our being aware of its passing. Take advantage of the moments we have and spend them wisely. Spend them saying, “I love you,” instead of wishing you had said, “Goodbye.”
I grew up military, married military and gave birth to military, and goodbye has always been a part of my life. But I gave up saying it long ago when I realized “I love you” lasts far longer and feels so much better. Goodbye? I’m not through saying, “Hello” and, “I LOVE YOU!”
Reprinted with permission to TCF from Bereavement Magazine
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