The wind howled over the fallow fields of the Palouse country of eastern Washington. Sleet turned the dead grass on the cemetery hillside into ice. The six of us, my two brothers and my cousins stepped gingerly between the headstones. Our slick dress shoes little better than skis. The burden we carried wasn’t heavy. She had never been a big woman.
We safely navigated to the graveside and placed the casket next to the freshly dug hole. Our suit jackets offered scant protection against the biting wind. A quick prayer and it was done. We hurried back to the relative warmth of the cars.
How important are goodbyes? Not just when someone dies, but even leaving for brief interruptions?
The woman in the casket was my grandmother, Granny we called her. She was joining my grandfather, “Papa” on a lonely hillside in the tiny town of Tekoa, WA.
It’s been 20 years, but I remember the details clearly. My younger brother and I sang “Amazing Grace” at her funeral service. We had planned to sing “In The Garden” until my mother informed us my grandmother hated that song and insisted it not be sung at her service.
My older brother conducted the service. The cousins agreed that our side of the family was more religious, so a Mormon conducted a service in a Congregational church for a woman who hadn’t embraced any particular religion until just before her death.
It was the first time I’d seen some of my cousins in 15 years. The hotel in Spokane had a piano bar. We all went down and sang out of tune ballads until two in the morning. And some of them I haven’t seen since. We gathered to say goodbye.
Was it important?
My grandfather had passed several years earlier. I was close to Papa. When I was sixteen I spent the summer in that same tiny farming community with my grandfather working on a friend’s farm. It was a magical time for a young man.
When I was twenty one I was attending BYU and I called my mother one day to say hi.
How ya doing, Mom?
I’m better. I was a mess for the first several months after my dad died, but the last few months have been better.
. . .
Rodney? Are you there?
My grandfather died?
You didn’t know? Oh, I’m so sorry. Oh, no.
If you don’t know it means your brother doesn’t know either. Would call him and let him know?
I’ve always regretted not getting to say goodbye. I’ve been to his graveside, of course. But, I missed the opportunity to gather and reminisce with my aunts and uncles. There was no all night sing along with cousins sharing our grief and memories. I missed being there to hug my mother and my grandmother as they dealt with his passing.
My uncle tells me that men in our family die young. He’s the age my grandfather was when an aneurism claimed him peacefully in his sleep. My uncle just had open heart surgery for the second time. We all get old.
This week I’ve been in Richmond, VA. Our client flew in from San Antonio for the launch of a new line of business. As we said goodbye yesterday, it was important to identify the next time we’d see each other.
See you in Louisville on the 17th.
Actually we’ll all be in San Antonio on the 10th for the QBR.
Right. See you then.
It’s important to say goodbye the right way.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.
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