It’s been 3 months since Alma’s death, and I both looked forward to and dreaded his graveside service. I wanted, needed, really longed for a sense of closure. I found myself mired in an abyss of sorrow, my heart actually feeling torn inside my body. I lost other family members through the years, but this loss of my child was not the same.
Friends asked why we waited so long to hold the service, and I can answer that in a single word: Katelyn. His precious little daughter experienced a meltdown when she learned about his autopsy: “Cutting him open? NOOOO!!!!” We shamelessly hid the little, almost insignificant detail about his cremation. I’m good with that; not every lesson need be learned at 9 years of age. Thus we waited until all the messy tell-tale signs of “no casket” were obliterated by nicely growing grass and a lovely headstone. But postponement merely delayed the inevitable. It finally came time to plan his his graveside service, time for me to quit thinking he was just at work, just in his shop, and to really face a regrettable truth.
For some of the family it may have felt like an unimportant after thought, but for me it was different. From the unexpected visitors greeting us when we arrived to the Mountain Dew I placed on his headstone in memory of the ubiquitous aluminum can he always carried with him, a necessary rite of passage took shape. The final goodbye. I felt lighter when we left the cemetery, glad it was over.
Yet I awoke the next morning still wanting to see my son, still needing to say goodbye. Grief remained. Perhaps loss remains as a sign of life, tears as a talisman of never ending love. Perhaps sudden death carries the lifelong expectancy to see a loved one, a need to say the unspoken words of the heart. And so I wonder: Is there ever a final goodbye?
We thought we said goodbye in the tearful final episodes of Mash, yet it airs everyday just like clockwork and as if it never ended. We thought we said goodbye to flared pants and miniskirts, but they resurfaced with new names nonetheless. Gaucho pants? Really? Perpetual reruns and repeating cycles of fashion leave the uncomfortable notion that nothing in life ever really ends. Yet death indeed spells an ending, a finite goodbye no one bridges this side of the grave. The question isn’t one of ending, it’s one of beginning the long process of adaptation to a colorless landscape of never ending grief. And I wonder if it spans into the great void of life after death. Does Alma carry within his soul words he never got to speak as well?
Let’s put aside the ideas of the happy medium and science fiction, dwelling instead on the reality of the chasm between two worlds existing in tandem, yet ever apart. No hugs, no phone calls bridge that gap. Only faith permeates the void, and that’s a commodity more precious than any 401k. Boomers eschewed materialism, but did they ever really cultivate the invisible commodities of peace transcending loss or faith supplanting despair? We need to ask ourselves hard questions and find real answers. For me the final goodbye was accepting he was really gone; now I begin each new day whispering, “Goodbye, Alma. I love you now and forever, Tall Man.” Now I cultivate that daily lightening, trusting in the Healer who promised He personally would heal my broken heart. Now I must remember how to cultivate joy. Acceptance became my final goodbye.