When I was a child, goodbyes were important. Mom always made a big deal of saying goodbye to Dad as he headed out the door each morning, kissing and hugging him until he finally said, “Alright, that’s enough.”
After their children were grown and married visiting “back home,” Mom and Dad would stand in their driveway waving us off until we were out of sight.
As an elderly widow, Mom would come over for dinner, after which it was our turn to stand in the driveway waving to her until she was out of sight. She wanted us to see her wave back so always drove off with the inside car light on, still waving as she rounded the corner.
Nate and I said countless goodbyes to our seven children as they left home for college or mission trips or marriage, most farewells once again taking place in the driveway, waving until they were out of sight. Goodbyes are important because, as Mom used to say, “You never know if it might be your last.”
The hardest goodbyes take place in the moments when someone is dying. We’ve said this kind of farewell to Dad, then Mom, and three months ago, to Nate, each as they took their last breaths. These were the most difficult because unlike all the others, we knew it would be our last goodbye.
Tonight I had to say goodbye to Louisa and Birgitta. Their Florida visit had to end so they could return to their jobs in Chicago. Although they’re 19 and 21, seasoned travelers to whom we’ve often said goodbye, today it was tough. I felt weepy as I watched them walk through the airport automatic doors pulling their wheeled bags. I stood waving until they were out of sight, calling after them, “I love you!” as other travelers looked at us. All goodbyes are more potent since Nate died. Even saying goodbye to someone I will see in a week’s time is cause for tearing up. Mom’s words always ring in my ears: “You never know…”
The Bible is dotted with significant goodbyes, but the most difficult must have been when Jesus’ disciples separated from him during the events leading up to the crucifixion. Although John stood at the foot of the cross and participated as Jesus took his last breath, the others threw away their chances for loving farewells.
Later, after the resurrection and their bonus time with Jesus on earth, the disciples had to say goodbye all over again when he left for heaven. How difficult these partings must have been, letting go of the one they held most dear.
The more goodbyes I say, the stronger my longing for heaven. Once we’re there, no one will have to leave, and no goodbyes will be necessary. The hurt caused by being separated from a loved one will never occur again. And unlike the disciples, once we’ve met Jesus face to face, we’ll never have to say goodbye again.
”No one has ever gone to heaven and returned.” (John 3:13, TLB)