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On Goodbye

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I never said goodbye to my mother. By the time we realised she was leaving, we found that her body remained but her soul was already on the train. Her eyes were fixed on an unknowable, distant destination. We waved when the whistle blew, but she never looked back. Worrying away at that loose thread, I believed that goodbyes are important. So when I heard that he was going into the hospice that day, I went.

It was one of many such days. Endless activity, calls to action, demands to be met. But this call was my own, and not to be deferred. He smiled when I told him that I had to come before he left. In between pauses to catch his breath, he told me how much he valued our friendship. In turn, I thanked him for his advice, freely given and always useful. We reminisced about past times, while afternoon sun bathed the room in a warm glow and a ticking clock provided a constant rhythm in the background.

He said he didn’t want to burden his wife any more, and shushed her murmured protests. This was the right thing for both of them, he said.

She was a strong woman, and she did not cry. She watched him with love and she smiled, because he needed to see it and she had to give him whatever he needed, now that all prayers were useless. Pain would be borne later, in private. She offered tea, but I could not delay my commitments further.

He coughed and wheezed. Joked that he sounded as if he had been on twenty a day, and I responded that life just wasn’t fair sometimes. It’s never been fair. We had spoken the truth, but we ended with a lie.

“See you again,” I said.

And he responded with a smile, “I hope so.”

We parted with a final, double-handed handshake, after which I held back my sudden impulse to hug him. It would have felt like surrendering to the inevitable. When all is lost, the tiniest shred of hope is the only thing left to us, and we cling to it lest we drown.

He was tired of fighting, and he faced his future calmly. Intangible and yet absolutely present, the word we would not say hung in the air like smoke.

 

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