Just a Thought


The Anguish of Having to Say Goodbye We all cry from time to time. I found myself crying this morning about an upcoming goodbye.

There’s something very difficult about saying a permanent goodbye. A part of us leaves with the person we’re saying goodbye to.

This column has been difficult to write...with me experiencing many tears as I wrote it.

God gave us an array of emotions. Crying is not one I need very often. But there are circumstances that cannot be reversed where I feel powerless short of breaking down.

I have an ink stamp that says “Some people come into our lives and quietly stay. Others stay for a while, leaving footprints in our hearts and we are never the same.” In this column I’m talking about saying goodbye to the ones who leave us, “and we are never the same.”

Emotions are a funny thing. They allow us to get the most out of our years on this planet. There are times where we need to control them and there are times it’s impossible to control them.

Sometimes our emotional meters just go off the charts. There’s nothing we can do to prepare for these times...not a single thing. They can only be experienced. A loved one dies, a child goes off to war, your spouse files for a divorce. Events that leave you standing still at the deepest point of the valley asking the question, “What do I do now?” The end result is tears, depression, and anguish.

We all experience anguish at times in our lives. I recently heard a talk addressing anguish. Merriam-Webster defines it as “extreme pain, distress, or anxiety.” Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “extreme unhappiness caused by physical or mental suffering.” Wikipedia tells us the root of the word is from the Latin word “angustia” meaning “distress.” Wikipedia continues, “The feeling of anguish is typically preceded by a tragedy or event that has profound meaning to the being in question.”

I think all of these definitions leave out a key element I feel is critical to experiencing anguish. I believe anguish includes an element of an event occurring that is beyond our control. My definition of anguish would include a high emotional response to an event that occurs that we have no power to change.

There are many things that occur in each of our lives that we have no power over. We have no choice but to accept them, feel powerless, and experience a degree of anguish.

I felt a full dosage of anguish when I had to put my favorite dog down after 12 years of experiencing life together. I could not stop my tears. Sitting in the lobby of the veterinarian’s office holding him while he licked my face for the last time. My emotions went off the chart and my helplessness to be able to solve the situation was as high as helplessness can be.

I felt helpless in the final hours of my father-in-law and my mother-in-law’s lives holding their hands as they struggled to breathe their last breaths. Giving each of my two children a hug before leaving them at college 500 miles away was a very difficult experience. And my list goes on from there...

Most of you have had a loved one who you walked hand in hand with in this world who has passed on. You experienced off-the-chart anguish at the time of the experience and probably still have an emotional response even today.

I don’t believe there is ever any way to teach someone how to handle a final goodbye. No amount of training can get any of us prepared for the highly emotional experiences we encounter in our journey of life. It can only be experienced.

We develop close relationships and develop them over time. This is one of the great experiences in life. Unfortunately all close relationships come to an end. Everyone who has lived will at some point breathe their last breath. Even my parents, who will celebrate 70 years of marriage in June, whose relationship with one another will come to an end at some point. There is no way to prepare for the emotions that will be experienced.

Binding yourself to another in a relationship can bring peace, joy, stability and predictability to your world. It is a great way to experience life. The benefits of the relationship far outweigh the downside of the eventual goodbye. These are relationships from loving someone so much that you pray you never have to let the other go.

Close relationships make each of us vulnerable. The closer the relationship, the more hurt that will someday be experienced. Relationships last for a season of our life and then they end. I know this is a blunt way of saying this, but it’s the way it happens.

We live our lives in seasons. External events determine these seasons. Internal responses determine how well we handle each season. The rush of anguish is often unpredictable, but it’s necessary if you live life the way it should be lived.

How do you handle a final goodbye? One that is beyond your control. I can’t give you any wisdom to be prepared for the next time anguish occurs in your world. All I can suggest is to embrace aguish and experience it to the fullest. Mourn, cry, feel highly depressed. Then, at some point, you need to go forward with your life and do the best you can to make the most of the days you have.

In one of the later episodes of the television series “This is Us” the elderly mother (who was drifting off in the early stages of Alzheimers) called a family meeting with her three children. Sitting at a table she looked into their eyes and told all three of them to not “shrink their world” because of her. She wanted them to go forward and be bold in what lay ahead in their lives and not be held back because of her condition. She didn’t want to be the reason they didn’t accomplish what they needed to accomplish.

These were powerful words to me.

Just a thought...