Saying Goodbye

It was a somber weekend around the house. A family friend passed away unexpectedly two short weeks ago, and this was the designated “Celebration of Life” weekend. Our good friend was one of those high-energy, always-on-the-go people, the kind that usually drive cats crazy. But this particular friend also knew how to take a moment to slow down and just admire the world and all the glorious things in it. A trait we truly admire, though it can seem in short supply sometimes.

Our friend battled cancer once before, nearly five years ago. The dreaded c-word can bring out the best or worst in people who hear that diagnosis. For our friend, it was a moment to shine. It was a “Never give up, never surrender” moment. With an amazing determination, the big-c was defeated.

But the big victory turned out to be nothing more than a temporary retreat. With shocking speed, the cancer returned and spread as never before. Even as family and friends waited anxiously for the biopsy results that would determine the next course of action, the cancer won that final victory and a happy, bright light was taken from us.

The initial reaction was shock. Yes, we knew there was cancer, but surely there was still time to mount a defense? The diagnosis had only just been made. Shock gave way gradually to quiet tears that would strike sometimes at awkward moments – a favorite song that brought back memories of our own unique version of carpool karaoke, a sudden expletive that burst across the tennis court, or the sight of the minivan, now parked forlornly off to the side of the house.

There are many ways to bid farewell. The more adventurous souls attempt to craft their own goodbye speech, while others seek comfort in words written by some of the world’s great authors…and a few not so great. Whatever the route, it’s one of life’s great struggles, trying to turn feelings into a few paltry words.

So why do we feel compelled to write or talk about our feelings? Whether written by the mourner or lifted from a favorite Weird Al song, the right words can help. The right words can provide a connection to others as well as a link to the past. The right words can provide a sense of community at a time when the community seems to be falling apart.

But in reality, there’s only so much words can do. Each person experiences their own unique emotions, a complex blend of things we label sadness, regret, anger, joy…. And words, for all the amazing things they do, are rarely up to capturing such intrinsic and expansive sensations. Most of the time, we’re barely even aware of the complicated web that fills our minds throughout the day with fleeting thoughts and sudden bursts of emotion that are gone before we even have time to register them.

And so we are caught off guard by the sudden tears that well up when we remember that moment when a good friend once recited dirty limericks until we stopped pouting and smiled. Words can and will help, but ultimately, each person must find their own way back to that place where fond memories may be tinged with sadness, but are no longer overwhelming. Words help, but only in a small way.

And so we bid our own fond farewell, to someone who was fearless, faithful and true…and a comedian to boot. Salud!

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