Ever since I was a little girl I hated saying goodbye. I would get a pit in my stomach that signaled that tears were not far behind. My most vivid memories of "Goodbye" happened almost weekly when my Dad, a salesman, took off in his car to go travel to Oregon and his sales job there. I remember standing at the living room window, my hand pressed tightly upon the glass, keeping the car in sight until it turned the corner...and was gone. Gone. Really gone. I just stood there in disbelief. My heart felt like it would never be okay again until I saw his precious face. My Mom used to describe that a small 'gasp" would leave my chest as Dad's car went out of sight.
There was a silence about goodbye. An awkwardness about what now? An emptiness so hollow that there was almost an echo in the room. I hated goodbye then, and I still hate it now. I hate the finalness of I may never see you again, this side of Heaven.
I was recently in Seattle and one of my stops there was to see my dear friend, Sharon.
Both Sharon and I have known Neil Lieurance, a musical genius and teacher, in differing circumstances. When I first started teaching at Shorecrest High School in 1970, Neil was my sidekick as we put together amazing drama productions like West Side Story, Auntie Mame and the Miracle Worker. Neil was the veteran Choral Director. I was the novice drama coach and our buddy Tom Rodrique was the orchestra director. For three years, Neil, Tom and Linda were an item. We went everywhere together. We spent hours pouring over plays and helping young adults, high schoolers, learn their parts. I'm not sure whose lives were changed the most by those productions, the directors or the students.
When I was staying overnight with Sharon on March 8th, we decided to call Neil and see if we could drop in to see him. We knew he had pancreatic cancer and Hospice was taking care of him. We called him and it was so obvious he was in great discomfort, each breath seemed to drain his energy. While we would have loved to kiss his cheek in person, we decided that a phone visit was the best venue for reminiscing. And we did. Neil laughed, I laughed. Neil cried, I cried. Almost in symphonic response like an orchestra with a conductor or two dance partners in complete accord.
I could hear his breathing and the effort it took to connect, yet I somehow felt like this conversation was life-giving to both of us. I knew, deeply in my heart, that I would never see him again. So I took a breath, said a prayer, and asked his permission to tell him "goodbye." He was quiet for a moment, and you could almost hear the tears coming down his tired cheeks, and he said so sweetly that yes, it was time for that.
I didn't hold back. I told him how much he meant to me, how much I loved him and that I would miss him terribly. I told him how much he had mattered, what a HUGE legacy of love of music and people he had left with thousand of students. I told him that he was a treasure and that I would miss him forever.
Just like when I was little, I felt almost like my hand was on that window watching my friend go around the bend and soon out of sight. I said everything that was in my heart.
Our tender goodbye filled me up as Neil told me he'd see me again in Heaven.
I flew home on Sunday and Neil died that day. I could hardly believe the blessing it was to have spent time with him on the last night of his life. This goodbye was sad, but it was closure. This goodbye didn't leave a pit in my stomach, but rather a song in my heart.
This goodbye was filled with sweetness and hope, caring and knowing. My buddy was leaving, but he wasn't going around the corner and out of sight. He was going home to Jesus. And when he left, a dear friend was holding his hand and singing him into the hands of His Savior.
Goodbye, old pal. Thank you for all the grace you shared, the encouragement you gave, and the warm and wonderful memories you left in my heart. Thank you for the tears we cried and the prayers we prayed. I will miss you forever.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
"We are all just walking each other home." ...