Denise Day Spencer

May 2, 2006

On saying “goodbye”

Filed under: Personal reflections — denisedayspencer @ 4:04 am

"Goodbye." There. I said it.

It's not usually a pleasant word. It's sometimes downright heart-wrenching. But it needs to be said.

I recently watched our school's spring drama production. The play was "The Curious Savage," by John Patrick. The cast of characters included a small group of friends who were all residents of a home for the mentally ill. They were a delightful little crew, who loved and fiercely protected each other. They had among them a number of agreed-upon behaviors. They never read newspapers until the stories were several months old. (Bad news was much easier to handle that way.) They had learned that a number of different phrases could mean "I love you," such as "Don't break your neck!" or "Take an umbrella; it looks like rain." And they never said "goodbye"–except to people they didn't like.

I understand. "Goodbyes" can be difficult to say. But some of my goodbyes are the bittersweet moments I will never forget.

I once worked in a place where half of the staff were women and half were men. We were a close-knit group overall, and two of my best friends were a couple of guys named Sonny and Carl. When I resigned because we were going to relocate, these two surprised me by saying they wanted to take me out to lunch. Just the three of us. So we went out one day, ate a leisurely meal, chatted away the time. In the parking lot we said our farewells with hugs all around. I haven't kept in touch with either of them since. But I will always remember the fact that they appreciated our friendship enough to want to give me a special goodbye.

Another parting was sadder and more profound. My grandfather lay dying in coronary care. Victim of a major heart attack, breathing only with the assistance of a ventilator, he lay in his bed unable to speak. As was his custom, he pulled me to him in a big bear hug. Seemingly unaware of his own strength, he had always had the habit of hugging me tightly, patting me on the back so hard that it hurt. Even in his weakened state, I was amazed at the force of his embrace.

It was one of the few times in my life that I have just intuitively known something. I knew it would be the last time he would hug me, for I knew it was the last time I would ever see him. My visit was brief, as coronary care visits must be. The tears started to come as I took my first few steps away from his bed, but I could not resist turning back for one last look. I will always believe that he, too, knew this was our final moment together. He smiled bravely and raised his hand, more of a salute than a wave. He died the next day, and I will be forever grateful that I got to say goodbye. 

Some people have real difficulty saying goodbye. Some people downright refuse.

When Michael was a youth minister during his seminary days, the church staff and their spouses were quite close. We went places together. We had lots of parties and potlucks. We were friends. We all went out together one last time before Michael and I had to move away. The parking lot was once again the site of final farewells. Everybody wished us well. Everybody hugged us. Everybody except Joe. We looked around and he was just…gone, vanished into the night. Someone offered an explanation: "Joe hates to say goodbye. He just won't do it." Perhaps he spared himself a moment or two of pain. But we wished Joe had faced us and embraced us. His self-protection robbed us of the chance to thank him for his friendship and to wish him well.

Even though it's hard, I now try to say goodbye. It's closure. It's important. And it communicates something.

So now you know. If I tell you "goodbye," it means, "Take an umbrella; it looks like rain."



  1. Thanks for the writing! Well and artfully said.

    (Pardon me… I’m just cruising around looking at different blogs.)

    Comment by fencer — May 2, 2006 @ 4:11 am | Reply

  2. […] Denise is blogging again; this time on good-byes. […]

    Pingback by The Boars Head Tavern » Blog Archive » Anathemas Pending? — May 2, 2006 @ 8:00 pm | Reply

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