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Parting

December 8, 2013
Mary, whose smile will be missed.

Mary, whose smile will be missed.

How do you say goodbye? How do you let go of a part of your past that is so integrally a part of yourself? How can you imagine a future that is missing a piece so familiar and precious?

There are no easy answers. Although death is an inescapable element of the human condition, it is profoundly jarring. The balance of fond memory and sense of loss is a delicate one. The swirling flood of emotion surrounding the inevitable often makes it impossible to achieve that balance.

I think now of my father, how his final torturous years came to an end in his bed at my childhood home. I was called that afternoon from my classroom so I could be there. I had a difficult time saying goodbye. My wife Bernadette knelt by his head as he struggled for breath, gently telling him that we were all there and that we loved him and it was okay to let go.

I think of my mother, how her journey came to such a sudden and unexpected close. I felt frozen and helpless as she lay there, unresponsive in the hospital bed, shattered by the impact of that car, and again it was Bernadette who helped usher her passage with strength and grace.

Yesterday it was Mary’s time.

Mary was my mother-in-law, Bernadette’s mom, the matriarch of the family. Her long descent through Alzheimer’s drew to its conclusion in her home, family gathered around. The sound of the oxygen machine mingled with that of sobs, soft farewells, final expressions of love. Her husband Tony sat by her side gently stroking her hand. Earlier, as cousins and nephews and in-laws gathered, timeless funny stories were retold by Bernadette’s brother, allowing laughter to break the somber mood. Bernadette, ever the caring nurse, tried her best to remain strong, but this parting touched something deep within her. When the moment arrived, soft music played and prayers were murmured and tears fell, and then Mary was gone.

There are many stories to be told of Mary, stories of her life, of her legendary Christmas dinners, of the family vacations together, of the ordinary moments that remain in our memories. But for now there is only the struggle with goodbye. Death, though sometimes a welcome end to suffering, closes a door never to be opened again, and that is a difficult reality to accept.

How do you say goodbye? In whatever way you can, with whatever strength you can muster. But most importantly, with love in your heart.

Goodbye, Mary. You were loved, and you will be remembered.

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