“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so; one must simply persevere and endure it.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian
He and I drive past the national cemetery this Labor Day morning. Our talk turns to military funerals.
“Remember I get one,” he says.
“With full honors, the flag, and a bagpipe,” I nod somberly.
“And a 21-gun salute,” he adds. “Or three, since it is hard to find volunteers for the guns. Three would suffice. Less than a proper Minnesota goodbye, but it will do.”
I recall the funeral of an uncle, a war veteran. The burial would be delayed. The military salute took place outside the church. I stayed inside and counted the shots, holding our fearful daughter tightly so she didn’t cry out. I missed seeing the casket go into the hearse. I did not give him a proper goodbye.
My wave of sad recollection breaks as the terminal looms ahead. My husband’s flight departs in an hour. He is in a hurry. A little kiss, a quick bear hug, a quiet “I love you,” from my lips, and he heads toward the terminal. The wave of sadness begins to build as I watch him walk away.
I try to remember how I look forward to his trips. No cooking, cleaning. No early mornings. No lunches to pack. And the remote control is mine. Small matters when a piece of my heart has left me.
I can see him no longer. Sorrow rises. He did not say goodbye. He would be gone a week. It seems like forever in my melancholy morning mood.
I meet our son and family for a quick breakfast before their long drive back to Chicago. Our time this morning will be little more than it takes for our waitress to get food on the table. I am grateful she forgets the silverware. Even a minute is a gift. It extends our hello, and delays our goodbye.
And then, our time is up. We hug, and my grandson says with a little parental prompting, “I love you Nama!”
“I love you Magnus,” I whisper into his neck. As they start to walk away I yell: “Goodbye!” He turns in his father’s arms and waves with a grin. “Goodbye!”
“We will be back soon,” my son says.
Back for hello. And another goodbye. Oh, my heart.
“As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face” (1 Thess. 2:17, NRSV).