Preparing for that Last Goodbye

Comments 27
goodbye gravestone
(Image/Thrive Global)

Nothing sparks contemplation for me quite as intensely as the news of someone’s death.

One of my best friends from childhood—the best man in my wedding, and my roommate for four years of college—lost his father.

I just found out.

And then my head goes to the place where my fingers need the keyboard.

No other life events affect me like death. The same must be true for many of you. The news—the shock and inflexible reality of it—forces you to rewire your brain in real-time, because what you know to be true is no longer true. And there’s no do-overs or rewind buttons. There’s just adjusting uncomfortably—sometimes very painfully—to the new world you didn’t want nor ask to travel to.

My friend’s dad was a doctor. A surgeon. A kind and funny and generous one.

In addition to welcoming me into his home for what seems like the majority of weekends throughout my senior year of high school, this man indirectly had a profound impact on my life.

He graduated from the same university I attended. So when his son and I were exploring college options, he was the one who drove us to campus one weekend to check it out and see a football game.

That trip cemented my friend and I’s decision to attend that school together and be roommates.

It was at that school where I switched majors so that I could make writing my career.

And it was at that school where I would meet the young woman who would later be my wife and son’s mother.

If Doc doesn’t invite me to visit his alma mater with his son that fall weekend in 1996, then almost everything about my life—right this second—could be radically different.

Heavy thoughts.

A favorite writer of mine starts his day by reading obituaries.

He believes that reading obituaries each morning helps him better appreciate life, focus on the present, and live each moment more fully.

There’s a simple brilliance in that.

Another favorite writer of mine will walk down the streets of New York City, imagining that every person he sees is terminally ill. That they will die in the coming hours.

He says that allows him to behave more kindly, more patiently, more empathetically, more thoughtfully to the hordes of strangers that are otherwise easy to de-humanize as they honk their horns, stand in your way while you’re in a hurry, and make daily life in the city more frustrating and less pleasant than it might otherwise be.

They do this because—one might argue—we are our best selves when we’re mindful of the fragility of this life.

We are not promised tomorrow.

How would we treat our spouses, our extended family, our friends, our children? How would we treat strangers?

If we knew they were going to die?

If we knew we were going to die?

It’s funny to me—not Ha-ha funny—that they are going to die. That I’m going to die.

The conditions are ALREADY in place for me to show up and be my best self to others. In that same way I naturally feel right now upon learning the news of Doc’s passing.

We shouldn’t be sad or morose or uncomfortably morbid all of the time. That doesn’t seem useful.

But we should be mindful. We should always be mindful of what may be.

Our time is precious.

Who deserves our forgiveness? Our patience? Our compassion? Our attention? Our love?

There’s a higher path we can choose to walk. I’m often operating several levels beneath it.

But now—right now—I feel how much I want to be up there.

And even if I—predictably—fail to stay up there as I cycle back into routine and normalcy and acting as if my life and my things are the center of the universe and nothing else is happening out there, it can’t hurt to spend right now reminding myself how laughably untrue that is.

That life is happening in other places and it matters.

That other people are fighting their own battles, and they’re hard, and what can I do to help them fight them?

That no matter what has happened in the past, between any of us and all of the people we know, there’s a farewell coming. One way or another, there’s a Goodbye up ahead.

Maybe we could make it a good one.

27 thoughts on “Preparing for that Last Goodbye”

  1. ❤️.
    We’re all afflicted with myopia most of the time, I think.
    I empathize with the losses and changes that have been happening recently.
    It does seem absurd, and so unreal that our lives, our present moments, kind of just – evaporate.
    I don’t think that means they don’t mean much-
    I actually think they mean ALOT.
    Obviously- in how this man helped to make who you are is one example.
    Who you are and what you do matters in the world- it leaves an impression.
    Sorry for the loss. I hope you can celebrate his influence with joy.

    1. I don’t know that ‘joy’ is the word to characterize it, but I think I can take wonderfully fond, and positive memories of a man who played a role in influencing my formative years, and who was the father to one of my life story’s most significant people, and use those as fuel to be more cognizant of the good I should be doing.

      Thank you for leaving this note, pip.

  2. I’m not going to get all preachy here but it is sad to hear the finality in some voices. For some of us with faith death is explained as sleep. It was sad when I lost my mother but momentarily because I know she is deeply sleeping for an extended period of time and will be awakened to share time with me again. I have no need for undue grief, remorse or worry. I love your writings on all subjects however.

    1. Thank you, Linda. I know what you mean, and I appreciate that perspective.

      I share in the hope of joyful reunions with loved ones.

      In the meantime, the only thing I can mindfully influence is how I affect others right now. The deaths of people I know and care about, and even celebrities whose art made an impact in some way, always leaves me contemplative.

      I don’t mean for it to sound bleak. I mean for it to sound like I want to be more, and I hope others do too.

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss, Matt.

    This bit of writing reflects a much greater truth. It’s not actually death that is the sad part, it’s those who have never lived. We often tend to spend our lives in that myopic state, ruled by fear,relationship fractures, and procrastination.We people can be kind of like the Walking Dead, not even aware we are alive until the truth and reality of death actually confronts us and we stop to take note of the difference.

    A lot of faith based people miss this truth too, but two of my favorite sayings are, “eternity begins right now”, and “Jesus didn’t die just to get you into heaven, He died to get heaven into you.”

    Death is not the end or a life event, its actually a state of being.

    1. I would never insult my friend’s wonderful family by calling it “my loss,” but I appreciate the sentiment very much.

      There’s been a lot of this in 2018. Too much.

      And if anything good can come from it, I perceive it to be how we treat ourselves and others. I hope I can achieve that.

  4. Beautiful truths. My first husband died suddenly and tragically. I never got to say goodbye. But I’m always grateful that our last day together was peaceful and happy with time spent together. We never know when the end is. It’s hard to live each day as though it’s our last or to treat others as though it’s theirs. But the more often we do it, the fuller our lives will be. Thanks for sharing this… It’s giving me a lot to think about.

    1. Thank you, Laney, for sharing such a deeply personal story.

      I can’t imagine the complicated thoughts and emotions that might come along with that experience. I’m very sorry you had to go through it.

      I hope that you and your family today are able to have a happy and blessed holiday season.

  5. May the Lord hold Doc in his loving arms forever and may all those that Doc held dear be comforted in the knowledge that they were loved by him. Sorry.Matt

    1. Thank you, Louie. He was one of the good guys. Appreciate the prayers for their lovely family and personal sentiment to me very much.

  6. The realization of the temporary-ness of our dance on this earth is truly a gift. It is a gift of humility of courage of frailty of kindness and so many more of our human traits. We all struggle to find the”whys” in life but the content and focused will turn that into ” why not”. This past year has had some powerful events that shake one awake yet again as before. Anne has been fighting a rare disorder that has baffled most competent medical practitioners in the North East . out of the box we have traveled to Los Angeles for a new treatment ( not covered by medical insurance) twice…it seems to be working miraculously. During this space of time my doctor discovered 3 lung tumors in me. Not surprising as 40+ years ago I worked construction on a military base wrought with asbestos and 25 years of working in the casino business in. Inhaling tons of second hand smoke. Thankfully there is no sign of cancer but I have to be checked every 6 months. These 2 events have given us a new outlook on our lives…we don’t sweat small stuff..we go places spur of the moment..we help who we can when we can….our families are closer…we see things in a future-tense. I had the honor of walking my beautiful daughter down the aisle this past October. She married a man I consider to be a good salt of the earth human being.( he has been put on notice by my 2 sons lol) We look forward to grandchildren and gatherings and life. Death is inevitable but life is sublime and should be celebrated.

    1. I want you to imagine me standing in a room, holding a drink (like that ridiculous, but fantastic Leo DiCaprio video clip from the Gatsby movie) and sincerely toasting you and Anne, and your family who I imagine I would think the world of.

      To you and yours.

      Cheers, good sir.

  7. Something that always stuck with me since I was a little girl in a wool Catholic school uniform was an idea a nun planted in my head.
    She told us to live your life like you were going to have to sit through an extended movie version of it when you die, with running commentary and critique by experts.
    I always think of that when I’m being less than my best self “I wonder how THIS will look in the cinematic rewatch?”
    I’m sorry about your friends dad. It’s so odd to have someone that’s always been there disappear like that. I hope your friend is doing ok:)

  8. Hey there, Matt
    I woke up this morning to the news a friend’ s son was killed in a car accident last night. We had been pregnant at the same time, gave birth in the same hospital, same doctor. It’s hit me so hard.
    And then your post was waiting in my inbox.
    ” The news- the shock and inflexibility of it”
    That entire paragraph perfectly articulates how I’m feeling- Thank you for choosing to write this today.
    And now for me to try and think what I can possibly say to her that won’t be completely inadequate.
    Sending a virtual hug and well wishes your way.?

    1. K. You are missed. I’m so grateful that you took the time to say hello.

      Every prayer, good thought, and well-wish is coming to that boy’s parents and friends, and of course, to you.

      I can’t imagine a more difficult thing, and I’m so sorry that their family and yours will have this hanging on your heart this holiday season.

      I don’t think there are such thing as adequate words, K.

      Hopefully, after this initial surge of support and condolescenses dissipate, you can be there for her in the months and years from now when your friend will feel excruciating loss, while the world seems to blindly carry on around her.

      I’m so sorry that you have to have that conversation. Thinking about you all.

  9. Interesting you wrote this *thought-provoking essay on December 14. December 14, 1981 my 16 yr old sister (when I was 13) died from a combination of complications from liver failure and things. Then on December 14, 1993, my Uncle died from prostate cancer, and ironically enough his birthday was on September 11, 1932. My mom almost died from her Viral Encephalitis attack some 7 months prior to my sister’s death. Thankfully, she didn’t – she survived only to be a quadriplegic thereafter. My dad died from Melanoma in 2001 – & my shit brother almost died on September 11, 2001 – sadly, he didn’t – I know it may sound harsh – but my shit brother isn’t called ‘shit brother’ for being a Sunday school teacher. That ‘title’ fits him perfectly – let us just say, he’s actively been trying to ‘harm me and his helpless mom’ since dad died! Ok – so *THAT BEING SAID* 🙂 I’m someone who literally ‘grew up with death’ – and like that motto I saw on some tv show as a kid, that goes like this: “We were born to die”! I know – it may sound like it ‘sucks’ – but, heck – though society often will say ‘life is short’ – there is also that way of thinking that ‘suffering is long’ – and well, who wants to ‘suffer’ – with anything. It’s more about ‘how one looks at things’ – and yes, ‘end of life’ – too. In your neat essay, you imply that if others were aware that they were ‘going to die’ then maybe they would ‘treat or be better people’ etc… Well, I completely disagree! With those like my ‘brother’ – he would then want to ‘act faster’ with regards to his narcissistic agenda, to do ‘harm to those whom he deems deserving of this’ even faster. And sadly, there are millions more like him. I’d be more willing to bet, more like him, than ‘you’. Sadly. (Cause you come across as a decent guy, and we need more like you) Here is one other thing to ponder: USA is a country, where ‘life is cheap’ – more than any other country on the planet – (excluding war-torn poor countries – I mean western countries etc…) From cops killing citizens to everyday people killing everyday people, more than any other country on the planet. That being said, your beautifully written essay, all goes to pot, when one really sees what ‘americans’ feel and think, and that is ‘death and or harming others’ is ‘better than not’.

    1. Whatever you may believe about U.S. government leaders and decision makers, I would ask you to consider that there are more than 300 million citizens and the VAST majority of us aren’t the least bit interested in harming anyone, ever.

      Certainly not me.

      You’ve been through a lot. More than most people can imagine. Wishing you and your family a happy and peaceful new year. Thank you for taking the time to share your story here.

  10. Impermanence – acceptance of this encourages us to embrace every moment and make it the best it can be.
    We suffer when we cling to things/people that can’t be forever and we have joy in having the best experiences when and while we can. I think people misunderstand non attachment as not attaching. When we are prepared that things change and life ends at some point we can attach more completely because we don’t fear the loss – we accept it for what it is.
    I’m sorry that you’ve lost someone dear to you and grateful that you have so many wonderful memories attaching you to him. ??

  11. I am so sorry for the recent loss of your grandfather and now your friend’s father who was important in your life.

    It strikes me that when someone dies it’s like a kaleidoscope. Each death or loss shaking up your life so the picture no longer is familiar. Disorienting.

    And we slowly adjust until the next shake comes. Good things shake it up too of course.

    It requires rethinking who we are. Past, present and future in the mind like riding a carousel.

  12. In early December I received the news of a former co-worker of about 13 years tragically dying in a car accident…survived by two young sons around 10 and 8. It immediately brought me to that place of understanding nothing’s guaranteed. It can lead to morbid thoughts, but it can also lead to appreciating the moment we’re in and truly enjoy what we have right now.

    Enjoyed the read – and I kind of liked that idea of the person who reads the obituaries.

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Matt Fray

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