What I remember most was his thick white hair, his soft eyes, and the raspberry hard candies in a tin he so generously doled out to me and my sister.
He’d had a massive stroke when I was a baby and seemed to live in a wheelchair. His name was Joseph but everyone called him Whit. He was a WWII veteran, a businessman, and he was my grandfather.
My grandmother Alice left her job as a nurse and spent eight years taking care of him at home. Her devotion and dedication to the man she loved laid the groundwork for my father’s equally courageous commitment to my mother in her later years.
My grandparents lived in Connecticut, about two hours from a small town in Massachusettes where my grandmother Kitty lived.
Because they lived so close, we managed to spend almost every holiday seeing them both, dividing our time by traveling back and forth.
At Thanksgiving, when I was nine years old, we were at my grandparents home in Connecticut, packing the car quickly to beat the traffic up to Massachusetts.
As I stepped into the back seat of our blue Rambler station wagon, I remembered something of vital importance, especially to a nine-year old.
“Wait, Dad, I forgot to hug Grampa goodbye.”
“We’re coming right back tomorrow, Ann. You can hug him goodbye and hello at the same time.”
By the time we arrived at Kitty’s house, my grandfather had passed away. I never got to say goodbye.
See You Around
Have you noticed we tend to collect people? It’s like we aren’t really sure what to do with those who come in and out of our lives for a specific number of days.
We keep things open ended to avoid feeling awkward and uncomfortable.
We say things like “see you around,” “stay in touch,” and “let’s get together soon” when we know the chances of that are pretty slim.
But by collecting casual acquaintances – maintaining open ended relationships – we deny ourselves the gift of closure.
A number of years ago I was trained as a drug and alcohol counselor prior to assuming my duties as a the director of a rehab center. Throughout the four-month-long training my classmates and I participated in small group counseling ourselves, as clients at first, morphing into group counselors by the end.
The training was full-time, intense, and required us to get absolutely real with our own “stuff.” This was just the tonic I needed having just completed a tour as a protocol officer, where appearances and politics are king.
Over fifty percent of our class didn’t make it to graduation.
As you can imagine, those of us who did became extremely close. We were all headed off to different areas of the world and the chances we’d see each other again were slim.
None of us wanted to say goodbye.
As I hugged one of our instructors, he looked me square in the eye and said,
“Goodbye, Ann, have a wonderful life.”
I was stunned.
I had never seen anyone display such an overt sense of closure.
And I loved it.
He recognized that our interaction was a gift of limited time and he gave me the freedom to let go.
Say What You Need to Say
My mom passed away last year.
I spent several years flying cross-country every other month to be with her and give my dad a little respite.
Each time I left I didn’t know if she would still be alive when I returned so I made sure my last words to her each time were how much I loved her.
On my final visit, I spent ten days watching her take her last breaths and slip away.
And I said what I needed to say.
My friend Debbie’s mom passed away just two weeks after my mom. In the years prior and throughout this past year, Debbie and I have shared our fears, sadness, and regrets.
Reflecting on her relationship with her mom, she summed it up with these poignant words, “We were together when I came into the world and we were together when she left.”
When I looked at my mom’s beautiful face for the last time, knowing I would never see the face of my first friend again, it was the most heart-wrenching experience of my life.
But it was also a gift.
I had closure with my Mom. I was able to say goodbye and in so doing, I was given the gift of living again.
Grief is a nasty animal, it moves in, unpacks all your baggage, and overstays its welcome.
Closure helps to ease him out the door when the time is right.
Closure lets you live again.
It is the gift of letting go.
The next time you recognize a relationship as temporary, fleeting, limited, or finite and you’re inclined to collect one more person, give yourself the gift of closure.
Wish them a wonderful life, let them go, and get on with yours.