I’ve said so many goodbyes this past year. I keep thinking it’ll get easier.
I’ve said goodbye to friends and colleagues as I moved back to the United States. To the father of a long-time family friend who passed away suddenly from heart failure this past summer. To a young woman I discipled in my Bible study all through my college years, who died after a long battle with brain cancer.
To a sweet little old lady and dear friend who wrote me the most beautiful letters and prayed me through many a tough season before she lost her own battle with cancer. To yet another prayer warrior who finished her race well.
And then, today, I had to say goodbye to one of my most faithful friends over the last 14 years.
I cried on him after a tough break-up and he snuggled in close and listened to my deepest soul-searching moments.
He ran with me down dirt country roads under the stars and helped me do chores on frosty winter mornings and celebrated with abandon lawn chair summer nights with cicadas singing in the trees.
Every time I came home from visiting friends in high school he’d run out to meet me with unashamed enthusiasm.
Years passed and I moved away to college and then moved across an ocean and still, no matter how long I’d been away, when I walked up the driveway and heard him announce my arrival and saw him run to welcome me, I knew I was finally home.
I remember when he first came to our family, a little ball of fluff smarter than he looked and eager to please and participate in every farm adventure.
We taught him to fetch a ball, leaping high in the air to catch it and sliding to a stop, sending up sprays of snow. He had an unparalleled passion for the sport. Even in his last year of life, when he’d slowed down to quiet old age, he’d transform into a (slightly slower) version of his younger self, waving his tail with a happy grin and chasing down the ball until our arms grew too tired to continue.
He aced puppy obedience with his characteristic calm, so we moved on to train him in agility (running a dog through an obstacle course). Obstacles that normally frighten dogs he took in stride, only looking mildly surprised with his first teeter totter experience.
He reacted with similar aplomb to his first of many close encounters with skunks and other wildlife, resulting in a thorough tomato and vinegar bath!
I grew older and my life spun faster, and my little friend started to slow down.
His enthusiastic welcome greetings changed from leaping two feet in the air to touch my hand, to laying his head in my lap with joy shining from soulful dark eyes and slow, happy wags of his tail.
I always knew I was loved and he never failed to come greet me, no matter where I’d been in the world or how long I’d been away.
And whenever I left and gave him a hug goodbye I knew it could be the last time. But I never really thought it would be. And then it was.
That’s kind of the way goodbyes go. Right up to the very moment, you can convince yourself that it’s not really going to happen. And then that person or pet you love is gone, and you’re left with only memories and a someday hope.
I have a theory about goodbyes.
Could it be that goodbyes feel so wrong because they are wrong? That our heavenly souls within us cry out that this is not the way the world is supposed to work–that a goodbye is really a “See you later” and death is no more than the turning of a page.
I’ve said my share and more than my share of goodbyes in recent months and years. Sometimes they are temporary. Sometimes they feel much more permanent, but are in truth just temporary as well.
After all, isn’t that why Jesus walked to the cross and bled and died? To overcome death so that He didn’t have to say goodbye you and me forever. So when He looked at His disciples and said goodbye what He really mean was, “I’ll see you again in a little while.”
Goodbyes are never easy. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to remember. It’s okay to grieve a loss that is none-the-less painful for being ultimately temporary.
Just as long as we remember that goodbyes aren’t forever.