Saying goodbye has never been my thing. Whenever the moment arises that a goodbye is demanded I find myself turning to denial and running away. It has been this way as long as I can remember. If only I had learned the importance of goodbyes sooner than perhaps I would not be living with deep regret today.
It was a hot Arizona summer day and I was somewhere around seven years old. My mother had just gotten off the phone with her family back east and I was already crying when she looked down at me to tell me the news I did not want to hear.
“Kathryn, look at me.” She commanded in that all to gentle voice. “I am just going to be gone for two weeks. You will be fine here with your dad and your siblings.”
She tried to pull me into her arms but I was angry at her and I shook her off and bolted from the room. I did not believe that she was going to leave me for so long. I would not accept it.
Over the next few days I avoided her. I played in every room she was not in and did not look at her over meals. I was determined not to think about her leaving and also determined to punish her for even thinking about it. I was selfish. I was a fool. When the day finally arrived that she was going to leave for the airport I shut myself in my room and cried. I can still remember my father bursting into my denial bubble and scolding me.
“You are not being fair to your mom,” he yelled angrily, “and you need to go tell her goodbye and you love her before she gets on that plane.”
“No!” I screamed back at him. “She’s not leaving!”
I did not say goodbye and, of course, she did not stay. I lived in a pool of misery those days she was gone and I swore that the next time she left I would not run away. I would say goodbye with a smile on my face so that she would know how much I loved her. But that was sadly not to be the case.
It was a rainy Arizona summer night and I was nine years old. The old couch in our dark living room was packed full of bare legs and solemn faces and only the sound of thunder broke the silence the room was thick with. I did not understand why my dad had left my siblings and I alone to go see mom at the Clinic that night. We usually packed bags full of coloring books and word games and went with him; but this time things were different. This time I knew something was very wrong.
At around midnight, when the storm was at its worst, or so I felt at the time, my father dragged himself through our front door. As soon as his eyes met ours we were filled with fear. Our mother had been battling cancer for a few years and by this point we had really started to notice the negative changes. More Clinic visits, more hair and weight loss, more sickness, more, more, more… I dreaded what he was going to say when he sat down with us. My denial walls were already shooting up in my mind but my heart still dropped at his words and the tears still came.
“Your mother only has six months to live.” He whispered. “We are going to Ohio to spend them with her family.”
And so we went, and those six months were both the shortest and longest days of my life.
At first mom was on the couch talking with everyone and trying to smile through the pain. I tried to be around her, because deep down I knew that this was all really happening, but fear always got the better of me and I ran away often. It was not long before she was spending her days in a bed. They did not bother covering up her hairless head any more and people would endlessly filter in and out of the room they had her in. I hated it and my fear only grew. Dad finally gave up on trying to get me to go see her. I was a coward and I did not want to believe she was leaving us. Selfishness prevailed once again, but this time it would haunt me for the rest of my life.
She died while I was getting my hair washed by my cousin, Tiffany. She died without me saying goodbye. At that moment time stood still and I remembered every single time I had done this to her; Every time I had avoided her out of fear and anger and refused to say goodbye. The only thing was, this time things were different. This time I did not have a next time to make things right.
I should have said goodbye with a smile so she knew how much I loved her. Goodbyes are important, you see, and now I will never run away from them again.
Don’t avoid important moments in a relationship just because they might be hard. Pressing on through the valleys to let that person know they are worth it will always be the best and the right choice, for you and for that person you love.