What happens when we don’t get a chance to say goodbye? Do we live with a sense of unfinished-ness? Or do we move on and squish the unresolved stuff into that deep well in the gut where it gurgles and festers but never sees the light of day?
There are so many unfinished goodbyes. A beloved, a friend, an acquaintance dies suddenly and there is no way to ask him for his cobbler recipe or to thank her for bailing you out that time. A couple divorces, and friends must choose a side, and in-laws are cut off. I know of two (and there are more) congregations where the pastor was summarily dismissed, there one Sunday and gone the next, and parishioners who were for and against that person never had the opportunity to say things like “I never liked you but you showed up when you needed to” or “that sermon you preached on the woman at the well turned me around.”
A hospital chaplain used to admonish pastors and interns and everybody to keep our goodbyes current. What happens when we don’t, when we lose the opportunity to get in a last, good word? Sometimes it’s a mess, when we don’t say goodbye. Sometimes we cling like shrinkwrap to the next best person. Sometimes we grieve everywhere but the place we most need to. Sometimes we wander lost, the way my cat did when his littermate died suddenly; he roamed the house, mewing and looking around, so sad and confused. Bereft too, I would say.
I once served a congregation whose previous pastor had been let go suddenly, with no going away party. I served there part-time for seven months, but when I left, they threw me the biggest shindig you can imagine. I was bowled over; my husband reminded me that really, the party was as much for the previous pastor as it was for me. Interim pastors learn that sort of thing, but I wish my predecessor could have been there too, since 90% of the party was for him. (I did keep and still treasure the quilt they made for me.)
Our word goodbye derives from a 14th century word meaning “God be with ye.” There is hope in that – though I didn’t get to say goodbye, I choose to believe that I and the one I miss are with God. But one last hug would have been nice.