Morgan Jones | The benefit of 'goodbye'
Nuggets of Wisdom | We tend to put off the heart-wrenching process of acknowledging death, but it’s a valuable one to start
October 16, 2013, 10:27 pm · Updated October 17, 2013, 11:48 pm·
Nuggets of Wisdom
I get most of my family gossip through my grandma. She doles out wit like she doles out hugs, and I look forward to the bi-weekly scoop on my aunts, uncles and cousins and, every now and then — if I’m lucky — a quip on my parents. There are few people in the world I wish I could be more like than my grandma.
On the phone with her just before fall break, I learned that my cousins had their first encounter with death. Their dog Levi ran out in front of a school bus, got hit and died on impact. My younger cousin, a kindergartener, saw it happen. A man covered Levi with a tarp and moved him to the side of the road just in time for my older cousin, a second grader, to get off his bus. My aunt took them over to where Levi lay. She taught them how to say goodbye.
Most of the time, my family likes to skate on the surface of topics such as death. Why address it directly? We make jokes about it, and we pretend like everyone is immortal. “Gramme,” I say at any mention of her passing, “Stop. Don’t talk like that. You’re going to live forever, remember?”
This conversation was different, however. My grandma suddenly took a dive beneath the surface. She essentially began the process of saying goodbye.
“It’s a part of life,” she said about Levi, “and I’ll want you to say goodbye in the same, simple way when it’s my turn.” I choked up and told her not to talk about it.
“You’ll be fine, sweetheart,” she continued, softly. “I know you will.”
Her words caught me off guard, and the conversation threw me into a funk for a couple of days. An uncertainty and loneliness descended on me when I actually considered what losing her forever would feel like. Beginning the process of saying goodbye left me in a cloud, and I didn’t know how to kick the sadness.
I wasn’t necessarily happy that she had brought the topic up either. Before this talk, I preferred to go down the route of not acknowledging death. It’s not a fun topic, and I simply didn’t — and don’t — want to think about it. Most of us don’t. Isn’t it better to not address it until you actually have to?
For those of us who are fortunate enough to still have grandparents around, we’re facing the reality of them getting older, and it’s a tricky topic to navigate. Mortality isn’t a secret. For me too, this comes at a time when I’m truly getting to know my grandparents as people, as relatable adults and friends. Saying goodbye in person is beyond heart-wrenching — I cried for a while after getting off the phone — but I now see that it’s a valuable process to start.
I’m realizing that I don’t need to kick the sadness and that my grandma is right. I know looking back that I’ll appreciate this conversation, and I’m thankful that I still have the chance to talk with her. I’m grateful to have a grandmother who wants to bring it up, because I know it’s not easy for her either. Goodbye is a process of learning, building and accepting. We may be approaching her final Thanksgivings, but I fully expect to see her this holiday season and at my graduation in the spring.
I didn’t know, when learning about my cousins and Levi, that I was about to get a lesson in saying goodbye as well. Though it may not have felt ideal, is there ever a “right” time for it? It doesn’t seem that way, but addressing it now can actually help the inevitable transition. And, if put off indefinitely, the time to talk may pass, and you won’t get a goodbye.
On the phone, I told my grandma that I loved her and that I would talk to her again in a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to that catch-up sesh with a renewed outlook, because our last conversation was a reminder that I won’t have them forever.
Morgan Jones is a College senior from Colorado Springs, Co. Email her at email@example.com or send her a tweet @morganjo_. “Nuggets of Wisdom” appears other Friday.