Welcome to Pump Up Your Book’s Virtual Book Tour for Saying Goodbye
One thing is certain: The older we get, the longer grows the list of people, places, and things we have said goodbye to over the course of our lives. That fact is always poignantly driven home during the holiday season when we not only say goodbye to the year past and welcome in a New Year full of promise, but are reminded as we gather together with friends and family of those who are no longer with us. From a statistical standpoint, the number of deaths during the holiday season increases for a variety of reasons, not the least being that those who are lonely, depressed and missing their own loved ones sometimes simply give up and lose the will to carry on as the holidays approach.
Editors Mike O’ Mary and Julie Rember have collected and compiled 31 short essays on the topic. In Saying Goodbye, an eclectic group of authors from around the world share true stories about the times and places in their own lives when they have said goodbye. Some of the stories are heart-wrenching and you will find yourself pondering the writer’s experience long after you have finished reading about it. Others are bittersweet. And some will make you laugh out loud.
One of the things I learned is that the stories aren’t really about saying goodbye; they are about love. Sometimes, after we say goodbye, what’s left is the love and good feelings that existed between two people.~ Mike O’Mary
All are memorable because each story demonstrates in a particular manner that saying goodbye is simply part of the process of living. Indeed, life is comprised of an ongoing series of goodbyes whether we are saying goodbye to a beloved family member, a close friend, an acquaintance, a memory, a career, an experience, a specific period of time in one’s life, or even an object of some sort. The manner in which we say goodbye — and respond to someone who says goodbye to us — reveals much about our true self, our values, our capacity to love and be loved, and our dignity.
The stories included in Saying Goodbye are not lengthy, but they are compelling. Because they are all true and, therefore, authentic, there are many situations described with which readers will identify and many authors to whom readers will relate. Particularly touching are the remembrances from childhood, offering insight into the way children view goodbyes, as well as the way our perspective changes as we enter adulthood and look back on those experiences. Among the most compelling are the descriptions of caring for and saying goodbye to parents, an experience those of us who are Baby Boomers have endured in ever-increasing numbers. Each story is a well-written, concise vignette from the particular writer’s life but, taken as a whole, the collection is a testament to the importance of being strong enough to say goodbye in a tangible and meaningful way that underscores and validates the importance of the transition.
Of all the stores included in the collection, one stands out as my favorite. “Love Letters” was contributed by Mary McIntyre.
A heavy box bound with shiny packing tape is cornered on the top shelf of Dad’s bedroom cupboard. I tilt the box, l ipping my head away from
an explosion of gray dust, and heft the contents in my hands down to the floor.
“This is the last thing, Dad.”
Dad and I are nearing the end of an invasive sorting process. It’s an essential step for deciding what he will need in a retirement home after his cherished home of forty-two years goes up for sale in a few weeks. He slumps on one side of the mattress beside the walnut headboard, the familiar place he shared with Mum for sixty-one years.
Macular degeneration keeps him from seeing the box, but he knows what weighs so heavily on the floor between us. Speechless with grief, he sinks his head further into his chest and raises a shaky hand to his eyes. I sit beside him and put my arm around his shoulders. He pulls out a hanky, wipes his nose and struggles for composure.
“I promised your mother I’d burn them.”
I try to hide my alarm. The letters my parents wrote to each other during World War II bulge inside the box. To them the contents are personal notes from Dad’s wartime posting to the Halifax shipyards, but to me they are keys for unlocking family secrets. Their stories in their own handwriting are taped away from prying eyes, stories about my older siblings’ births and babyhood, Mum’s life under her parents’ roof, Dad’s work as a Chief Petty Officer for the Royal Canadian Navy. It is as if all of the codes, the answers, the history, and the understanding of a senseless war will be revealed to me by simply opening the box.
I’ve known of their promise to each other for years, but still hope I can change Dad’s mind. Surely Dad, who sits with me daily in the sunroom drinking cups of tea and revealing layers of his childhood, his work, and his family, can’t burn the proof of his history. And Mum—lost to us forever just one month ago—would her memory still hold him to his pact to sever the connecting threads?
“Dad, can we leave this for now? Let’s talk about what to do with it later.”
I’m buying time. I want to soften his resolve and somehow convince him of the letters’ importance to the rest of the family. What I most want is to capture the emotion of those days before I was born in 1947. I have plenty of memories of grandparents and aunts and uncles in the 1950s, but I want
to know what came before.
I understand Mum’s reasons for the deathbed pact with Dad. At times of great fear and yearning, she’d written love letters she did not want a lover to reveal to anyone else. Imagine the embarrassment of pet names and syrupy protestations of love exposed to an unsympathetic span of time. Or worse, imagine no opportunity to explain what possessed her to risk writing her feelings on paper. But this understanding doesn’t keep me from hoping Dad will relent. For years I have been obsessed with capturing family history through old photographs and letters, and now I secretly challenge my mother’s final request to burn their secrets.
For two weeks, the sealed box teases me from the bedroom l oor. I suggest to Dad that I read the letters to him one last time before he takes steps to burn them. He says it will make him too sad. I of er to stow them in the locker at the retirement home in case he might want to read them another day. No, that would be dragging too much of the sad past forward. And he reminds me he has made a promise.
Living with Dad and managing his affairs after Mum’s death has taken me away from my own life. I arrange for my brother to stay with Dad one day while I catch up with my other responsibilities. Returning to Dad’s house at dinnertime, I notice the normally quiet house feels even more silent. I hang up my coat and turn into the living room. Dad is seated straight and patient in his chair, as if he has taken time to compose himself.
“I have something to tell you,” he says.
Puffy red folds rim his tired eyes. I sit opposite his chair, expectant. A problem for me to solve, I guess.
“I know how important the letters are to you,” he says.
Dread stiffens my face, an expression he can’t see.
“Bob helped me burn them today . . . in a barrel . . . in the backyard.”
There it is. The message I don’t want to hear. At first a sense of loss weighs down on my chest, then rage infuses my mind, like grieving all over again.
My silence is worrying him because his voice quavers when he says, “I’m sorry, but a promise is a promise.”
I can’t trust my voice not to reveal the disappointment I feel. Angry words of i nality spin in my head—irretrievable, irrevocable. But not the word “lost,” because that implies the letters can be found.
With shaking hands, he lifts a creased envelope across the space that separates us. An old stamp is cancelled in the corner. I take it.
“Bob held back the last one and asked me if I wanted him to read it to me. He did and I saved it for you.”
I lift the yellowing flap, pull out a folded square and read the letter. He called her “Bubs.” He hoped his leave would make it possible for him to be home for the christening of their second daughter. He poked fun at his roommate who tried to compliment the landlady into giving him second helpings of pie. He talked of missing her and his i rst daughter since they’d returned to Toronto to live with her parents during her second pregnancy. He told her the classes of ships he worked on, and reminded her of places they’d visited together when she and my oldest sister lived with him in Halifax for a year. He hoped she would go with her parents to their cottage and get some rest. There is more: shortages, expenses, train schedules, things I can barely read through the tears I push of my cheeks with the back of my hand.
Dad gets up and crosses the room to sit with me on the couch. We hold hands and cry through the sadness. My sympathy for him over the permanent loss of his wife and the letters that meant so much to them is unbearable.
Dad made the right and only choice for him and Mum. I finally understand and respect their shared reluctance to reveal what must have been a special and private time in their lives. A promise is a promise.
Saying Goodbye would make a lovely gift or a treasured addition to your own library. Although I read the entire collection in one sitting — I could not put the book down because I found all of the essays intriguing, thought-provoking and often inspiring — it is the kind of volume to which you will want to return from time to time in order to refresh your recollection about or quote from one of the included narratives. I highly recommend Saying Goodbye to anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one, home, job, pet or other person or thing of importance. As one reviewer aptly stated, reading the insights of others who have endured similar experiences “will make you feel better.”
I read Saying Goodbye in conjunction with the 2011 Read ‘n’ Review challenge.