I’m not a fan of goodbyes. The temporary kind, sure; the permanent kind, not so much.
Death, when it comes suddenly, makes the possibility for a “good” goodbye difficult. That is a concept I learned about a number of years ago when working as a volunteer facilitator with a grief support group. Death makes the concept of goodbye pretty heart-wrenchingly awful. But life is so full of natural beginnings and endings, starts and stops, that we have the opportunity to actually embrace these conclusions when we can. A good goodbye is intentional and thoughtful, accepting that things end or change but that we don’t always have to leave with things unsaid or feeling like something was left unfinished.
In the grief group I volunteered with, we had an intentional ritual around goodbyes. Anytime a kid would transition out, we would pass around a box of rocks to everyone in the group during “circle time.” The rocks varied in size and color, some polished and some not. Everyone was invited to choose a rock to give to the person leaving. We would go around the circle and have a chance to say why we chose that specific rock, why it made us think of them, as well as what we enjoyed about that person and what we would miss about them. That person then had a handful of loving and beautiful tokens to remind them of this group. The goodbye ritual was similar when a volunteer left the group as well. We made a point to fully acknowledge the process of something ending.
Death obviously complicates the issue. Most often we are not provided the opportunity to say goodbye before someone leaves us. Instead we are left in our grief, needing to say goodbye after the fact. Nonetheless, I have learned that the more intentionality with which I approach my loss, the better that goodbye feels. That has applied to changing jobs or ending friendships, processing disappointment or change, as much as it has to death. And, for me, this has often -always actually- included writing on some level.
With this most recent loss of my friend, Steve, I have been again reminded that I need to find a way to honor my desire for a good goodbye. So I wrote a lot of terrible poetry and hard to read journal pages as a starting point. This is an important, though not always regular, habit for my well-being. What I have ended up with today is a letter and a poem.
I’m not sure which to include first, or if I should include one over the other. Both are written as much for and to myself as they were written for or about Steve. The poem is a raw contemplation around suicide. It is true to my own experience certainly, and I can only imagine how much so for my friend as well. The letter though is a more pointed goodbye, more specifically addressing the heartache surrounding missing him.
First for the poem then:
Cold metal tang,
taste of gun in your mouth.
Heavy against an inert tongue
intoxicated to numbness.
Even booze can’t stamp out this pain.
Again and again the blame
for this darkness
presses down on your shoulders.
You can’t escape it anymore,
it will chase you until you die.
It’s been so long now
that you’ve taught yourself not to cry.
And peace is in the plls, the poison
that is rolling through your veins,
pulsing slowly, drug-laced waves.
There are no answers that can save you,
we’re headed to the grave either way:
today, tomorrow, yesterday.
But you can no longer face
the slow, wasting away of your soul.
So the answer now is “No.”
No more sleepless nights and peaceless mornings,
no more trouble with the law, with yourself and the demons that chase.
No adding layers to the heartache your family feels watching you
There are far too many pieces to this puzzle.
It is impossible to convey
the energy it takes to remain hopeful.
And so it is both rash and considered
when the knife goes into your heart.
I feel your pain, a blade to my own heart,
your choice rips my jagged wounds a little wider.
Your truth -your fear- is the same as mine:
that this may not end until I die.
And the thought of just one more breath horrifies.
I am breathless and wide-eyed,
apathetic and enervated.
Fingers brushing tiny threads of a rope so frayed and
dirty, it can hardly be called hope
But you told me, “Remember,
And so I am. Facing the future moments,
even though it aches that you cannot,
one day at a time.
I am so sad to have to say goodbye to you. It tears my heart apart.
Monday was your funeral: your viewing, service and burial. I hated seeing your dead body. You looked perfect and still like a doll. But I wanted a hug and to hear your laugh. I wanted to see that great smile that always included your eyes; I could never help but smile back. I wanted to be able to say a real goodbye.
I feel like I am in a weird place of having known you well enough to miss you, but not all-together that well. Our connection was minimal in some ways but important and powerful in others; and your death is having ripples of impact in the circles we knew each other in.
I wish for a goodbye where I could have hugged you tight and said thank you for the number of times you texted me out of the blue. Thank you for going out of your way to tell me I was missed when I wasn’t around. For encouraging me and being excited for me.
I’m sorry everything hurt so much.
The last message you sent me was a little over a month ago, and it said simply “remember live today.” I’m trying, and I know how awfully hard you tried too. I can’t say that I wished you had tried harder, because I understand. What I wish is that it didn’t have to be so much work for you to live in the first place. That breaks my heart.
I really am going to miss you. You were one of the people I looked for at meetings and always made sure to say hi to. You were someone that made being at a meeting that much better. It sounds like you were that way throughout the rest of your life as well. Even when it was dark, you still carried some sunshine with you.
You will be dearly missed, my friend.
As much as I can’t imagine making it to 52 and still feeling the way I do, and though there is a dark part of me that is banefully jealous that you are dead and I am not, I am committed to staying put on this planet. I wish I had confidence that things will be different for me than they were for you, but I’m not sure they really will be. It is easy to resign myself to that, when things hurt so much for so long and the years seem to make no difference but to drive that point home. It is probably possible to function in misery and resignation forever. That scares the shit out of me. But so does hoping. Because hoping for something that will never happen is its own kind of unbearable pain. I simply cannot shoulder that kind of pain.
But you’re dead, and I’m still here. Though I honestly do not want to try anymore. I do not want to continue defending this fort. I want a way out like you wanted a way out. Yet, I am not choosing it. I can’t entirely explain why either. I don’t really understand how your death can at once take me out at my knees and, at the same time, incite me to keep going.
You’re dead, and so I am going to try harder not to be. I woke up today. I bought myself a fucking pair of sweatpants from an organization for suicide prevention. They say “we will be the hopeful” on them. I am alive today, hopeful may still be a stretch. But its seems that you may be helping to save my life a little. Somehow encouraging me to care a little more and try a little harder. Hold on a little longer. It doesn’t really make sense how that works exactly, but I guess I’ll go with it. I’m trying.
Thanks for keeping an eye on me.