Never Say “Goodbye”

say-goodbye-french1(a funeral sermon for a 94 year old named Hank)

I don’t like saying “goodbye.” For whatever reason it just seems awkward to me. I know that I’ll see these folks again so perhaps the “goodbye” stands as a “thank you” for the time spent together.

Women, I suspect, have an easy time with departures. There’s a new conversation that begins at the exiting door after they’ve said “it’s time to leave” in the living room. Those conversations can extend for long periods of time. Just a name unmentioned before and everyone need to be caught up in the her latest happenings. Just say “goodbye,” I say.

I had a wedding with over 200 people over the weekend and after dinner decided to discreetly leave but only saw a few key people around. I “thanked” them to their surprise that I was not staying longer. A final look around for the newly married couple was futile and I exited. The next day I wondered if I should have stayed longer for the “thank you”/”goodbyes” but I like that someone may say, “Oh, he left awhile ago.”

So, if you invite me to your home for supper and go to another room, please do not be surprised when you return and find me gone. I had a nice time and did not want to say “goodbye” only to hear, “oh, don’t go, stay awhile longer.”

And so it is with death. We don’t say “goodbye” even if we had the rare opportunity to say that word to someone we love. Saying that “goodbye,” I think, is really a way of saying that I’m here with you now and I want you to know that.

I bet if you read a social worker’s report or doctors’ notes on Hank it would list feelings like “withdrawn,” “quiet,” “keeps to himself” as though they are not human qualities and need to be rectified through talk or cured through pills. You see, for Hank, he never said “goodbye” to Isabelle. It wasn’t going to happen and it did not happen. I’d guess he felt the same about his first wife but Isabelle and Hank are the ones that I got to know. Even in Isabelle’s confusion, Hank was always beaming to be with her and take her, as often as possible, to play darts in the morning. When Isabelle left this world, she never left the world of Hank. She remained within and around him throughout his last years.

“Goodbye?” Ugh. The five of us kids have our parents and grandparents stuff surrounding our respective homes. A nicknack on this mantle, a vase in that bathroom, embroidered table cloths that once covered Thanksgiving meals. (A robber can have the flatscreen but not the vase!) The Church offers memorial cards, Mass intentions, (angels in our curio cabinets), joining a purgatorial club (I wouldn’t suggest that way, by the way), cemetery plots needing flowers throughout the year along with holiday cemetery Masses. (I guess I’m not the only way who doesn’t say “goodbye.”)

The social worker’s report may have reported that Hank is failing in completing the five necessary steps of recovery following a death or tragedy. There’s five of them and I have a hunch that Hank was stopped by the first one: denial. And you just can’t beat denial in our culture because if you deny that you’re in denial then you’re in denial. (Just try convincing a counselor otherwise!) The popular spectrum of the five is first denial with number five being acceptance. I think that Hank wavered between number one to number five often and then devolved from five back to one, but not because of those clinical words but because he just simply would not say “goodbye.” She was too much a part of his life to say that word.

To return to my singular yet dual meaning word, I imagine Hank said “thank you” a lot to both his wives and to the long life that he lived but I do not think he ever said “goodbye,” after all, he’s a guy. I bet we all say “thank you” more than that other word. Good for us. I believe our faith calls us to say “thank you” more than once daily but never to say that other word.

And there’s another guy, the Big Guy in heaven who I believe sings the old Beatles’ song to both Hank and to everyone He greets, “I don’t know why you say ‘goodbye,’ I say, ‘hello'”.

About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). Six books on the Catholic church and U.S. culture are available on
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