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It is possible to find comfort in having to say goodbye | Joan Bay Klope
It was from the comfort of my front porch — where I sat in the sun, treasured library book in hand, iced coffee within reach — that I observed our rescued pet cat do the very thing I hate most: hunt. Although he spends the great majority of his life inside, the sun was so warm it beckoned even him away from his resting place on the back of a couch and over to the door, where he meowed and pawed at the screen until I finally gave in and let him out. Drawn back to my book, I lost track of his activities in the yard until I noticed his sleek, orange tabby coat dart from the edge of the wooded area that surrounds my home. It was the tiny form of a wild baby bunny hanging from his mouth that prompted me to leap off the porch and run screaming across the lawn and over to the hunter.
His mouth opened, out dropped the bunny into my cupped hands and back across the lawn I hurried to begin triage in my kitchen.
Countless times I have held baby bunnies in my hands over the years. It’s what happens when you live at the end of a country road in the Pacific Northwest. I grabbed a clean, old towel and threw it in the dryer to warm it up. I then hurried over to a closet to retrieve a basket that would become his place of hospice. Gently I wrapped him up and nestled him in his temporary bed. Only then could I gently search for the inevitable residual damage that results from a ride in the mouth of a feline.
My son and I huddled around the tiny injured rabbit, hauled out from the protection of the woods by the feline member of our family. We checked for evidence of injury as bunny skin is paper-thin and easily pierced. Fortunately, he appeared to be in amazingly good shape, merely shocked. We gave him time to recuperate in the warm, quiet of the basket.
But most of all we talked about goodbyes.
“We’ve faced this scenario many times before and this morning is no different. He’s too cute for words,” I commented out loud, “but his chances for survival are best in the woods in spite of this small tear in his skin.” An hour later I headed toward the door and gave myself a pep talk: “This is the best course of action. Nature will take over in better ways than I can. It’s time to say goodbye.”
It’s that goodbye time of year: The time mother birds watch their fledglings hop and flap and eventually fly from the nest for good. The time pledges of lifelong loyalty and friendship are tested as recent high school graduates attend college orientation programs and look to a future that includes a new school and loads of new friends. When moving trucks can be seen parked in front of neighboring homes and families talk of “pack up” schedules.
For most of my life I had little occasion to say goodbye. I grew up in a civilian community where people rarely transferred. The two young soldiers who grew up next door to me returned from Vietnam and most of us who entered kindergarten together also graduated from high school together as well. Most of my goodbyes were more like “See you laters.”
Then I grew up and moved away from my hometown. A decade into my marriage, my young family moved here to the Pacific Northwest and joined a community that does a fine job of hosting its transient Navy residents. I have been saying goodbye ever since.
There is some comfort in the universal nature of goodbyes. It is certainly a difficult task for most of us. But I struggle. I work mightily not to cry, but I often do. And I grieve in knowing that I will never again see some of these cherished people.
American writer Jessamyn West once wrote, “Life is a long series of farewells; only the circumstances should surprise us.” That sentiment helped me the last time I uttered the word goodbye to my maternal grandmother. Her advanced dementia, which robbed her of our history and intimacy with me that day, also spared her the pain of parting. Our shared faith gave me hope that our final goodbye at that nursing home was really a “See you later in heaven!” kind of moment.
My faith helps me most of all with the bigger losses and goodbyes. When there is no avoiding a sense of loss I frequently turn to the Bible which houses story after story demonstrating that God understands my feelings. I can tell him how lousy and sad I feel about a goodbye and he will get it.
I also know that just as God draws close to me, he will draw close to those I love and care for. And when distance as well as limited amounts of time and money prevent me from spending time with friends who have left the area, I can do something very positive for everyone: I can pray for them, call, text and e-mail.
If you are saying goodbye this week, perhaps you’d like to join me in saying this prayer:
May the Lord bless you and keep you;
May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
May he lift up his countenance on you and give you peace.
Joan Bay Klope is a freelance writer and speaker who makes her home on Whidbey Island. Her award-winning column has run for 12 years in Western Washington newspapers. E-mail comments and speaking requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.