Three Ways to Think About Missing Someone/Telling them Goodbye
1. My dad died three weeks ago. I’ve found myself thinking that I miss him, or that I will miss him soon. The thing is, he was always gone from me. I’ve spent half my life missing him. As a child of a 60s divorce, I was always missing one or the other of my parents since I could never be with both of them at the same time in any sort of normal way. My dad was an airline pilot, which made this worse in ways that he could have controlled, and couldn’t. Certainly, working as a pilot generally means being away for days at a time. That’s to be expected. But then there were the choices to be away. One time close to the winter holidays when I was little, I asked him if we would see him at Christmas. He said no, he was working then so that the guys with families could be with them. Took me 20 years to really hear that. He could have lived anywhere without it affecting his job – in fact for a long time he lived in Sarasota while all of his flights were based out of Chicago. But he never chose to live in the same city as his children. Never. After he retired I worked at being with him more, getting my kids together with him. But if I wasn’t pushing it, nothing happened. As the kids have grown up and moved into their adult lives, those opportunities became more rare, but the invitations to Dad were usually turned down. A lot of it had to do with alcoholism, but he never really shrank from drinking in front of me. So it’s weird to think of missing him. It’s really not a change in the status quo. I didn’t really get a chance to tell him goodbye. But I was always telling him goodbye.
2. I saw my grown daughters during all the to-do about my dad. They both live away from me, so I miss them, but it’s different. We talk frequently. And by talk, I mean verbal, text, email, FaceTime, Facebook…All channels of communication are open and flowing. We send silly pictures to each other, and meaningful articles, and lines from favorite movies. They have these great, full-blown lives they’re living, with me and their dad on the sidelines instead of right in front of them and that’s totally appropriate. When we’re together, we have so much fun. But after a while we all get on each other’s nerves, so when we have to part and say goodbye, it’s a strange mixture of grief and relief. The longer we’re apart, the more I crave their hugs and cuddles. They still have the soft smooth skin they had as babies. They still love to have their hair stroked. But the longer we’re together, the more I crave loving them from afar. I kind of don’t miss them, because I feel like we’re together, physically or psychically or digitally, all the time. But I do miss their touch.
3. My inlaws are failing. My father-in-law has a chronic illness that saps his strength and stamina. I miss the man of 20 years ago, before the heart attacks, bypass surgery, colon cancer. The guy who beat all that and then bought a Harley, dammit, and took all the neighborhood kids for rides. The guy who could handle anything around the house, who kept the books and investments, and rode the waves of short term stock trading with aplomb. Smart, strong, capable, wise, rollerblading, golfing. Now he is regularly hospitalized and when he’s not hospitalized he’s pretty much tied to the house. He’s lost weight, lost patience, lost energy, lost stamina, lost the strength he had to deal with anything. My mother-in-law has early Alzheimer’s. She is a retired nurse with a master’s degree. At one time she was working full time, raising teenagers, keeping a household, and going to graduate school. Now she can’t remember what year it is or what she did yesterday. I miss the woman who challenged herself late in life and became a nurse practitioner, the woman with more compassion than anyone I’ve ever known. She stayed with us for a week recently and I realized there’s little time to greive for that lost woman while the one in front of us needs so much attention. Goodbye to the mom we knew is kind of understood, but not said because it’s so hard to admit that she is really gone while someone else in her frame is standing right in front of us.