By: Staci Stallings
I’m terrible at saying good-bye. I always have been.
When I was about ten-years-old, two of my aunts left to go back home. We lived in Texas. They lived in Chicago. You would have thought they were never, ever coming back the way I carried on. In fact, I can vividly remember standing in my grandparents’ driveway as they drove away, crying like there was no tomorrow.
It’s been over 30 years since then, and I’m still no good at it. I love hellos. I love “Hey, you made it!” whether I’m the one arriving or I’m the one doing the greeting.
But I hate good-bye’s. And it really doesn’t matter how long it will be before I see the person again.
When my brother left for college, my sister and I cried for a week. He was only gone for two months before he decided that wasn’t where he wanted to be and came home, but if tears at a send-off were the measure of greatness, he would have been a king.
Recently, I had cause to attend a funeral of a dear man whom I have known my whole life. This man was one of those great men, a quiet man who didn’t grasp for fame or things of this world, but lived his life in such a way that even his grandson who is like 12 recognized his greatness by saying he hopes that someday he can be half the man his grandfather was. This particular man lived quietly. He was a farmer. That was his occupation. But that wasn’t what he “was.”
What he mostly was was the quiet presence that held everyone else together. He loved music and laughter and he loved people–old people, young people, kids, teenagers. It didn’t matter. If you were alive, you mattered.
I can remember when I was very young that his daughters were good at tennis, so they built a tennis court in their backyard. Kids would come over to play tennis many nights, and they were always and all welcome. One young man told me that he spent many nights over at their house when his sisters were at a basketball game. He was always treated like family.
Family. That’s what you felt like when you around them–whether you were or not.
They had ten kids. What was one or a dozen more?
In fact, one of my best friends became one of their daughter’s friends. Being single and alone for Christmas, she got invited over, and hearing her impressions of that family are priceless. She wasn’t an outsider, looking in. She was welcomed and loved by all of them that number nearly 100 now.
That was one thing about this man and his wife–they knew how to make you feel loved even if there were 100 other “real family” around, not because of some grand pronouncement, just because you were there, and you were seen, and you mattered to them.
And so, when it came time for a Heavenly send-off, I knew before I went that this man would get a great one. He had quietly touched and nurtured too many other lives for it to be anything else.
The strange thing about this life is that no matter how long you are here, when it’s time to say good-bye, it always seems too short. Or as our pastor said, “How sad it would be to be the person that everyone was glad when they left the room.” This wonderful man was the one everyone was glad when he came in the room, and the sadness at his leaving was cushioned only by the gratefulness of the memories he left and the understanding that death brought him a reprieve from the suffering he was under.
Now, however, it was and is time to say good-bye, time to be grateful for the memories because the moments are now gone.
I am reminded at his passing of two things:
First, it is not the awards and accolades you accumulate in your lifetime that count. It is the friendships. The people you have been there for, the moments that you made the right things important. That’s what you get to take with you.
Second, even if you get 85 years, your time here is fleeting. Do not waste it.
So, for now, this is good-bye, but thankfully, we cling to a faith which says this good-bye is not forever. It is only for now.
For that, I am eternally and everlastingly grateful. God is so good.