The Difficulty of Saying Goodbye to a Friend
October 3, 2007
A friend died last week. We were childhood friends, three days difference in our ages, both with two kids, our parents are best friends, and both thinking we had years ahead of us.
We haven’t seen each other in over twenty years, but kept up with each other through our parents. Strangely, sometimes it’s not until someone is gone that you realize how you wish you had done a better job keeping contact.
That’s the reason for the long delay in posting anything here. Well, partly. I was out of town attending his funeral much of last week, but I think the biggest reason is that I knew what I would have to write…for me, that is. I would have to write about this.
When I first found out about his sudden illness and quick death, I was, of course, shocked, but more than that I was simply hurting for his parents. I made the arrangements to go back home for the service, but didn’t really take the time to process. I knew it would be hard, but I think I kind of compartmentalized it as I am, oh, too good at doing.
Karen wisely decided to come with me (we had not planned on that initially), because I guess she had a hunch I would need her presence. She was right. She doesn’t feel like she did much, but she didn’t have to do anything but be there.
So, the day of visitation came which was the night before the funeral. I stood in line with, literally, the hundreds of others who came to pay their respects. When I finally made it to his parents, standing just before the beautiful, metallic silvery blue casket, it just came out. I couldn’t stop the tears. I managed to get “I love you” out to his dad, but not even that would come out as a clung to his mother. A kiss on the cheek was all I had to give.
Leaving the room, I quickly put it back in it’s little compartment, knowing it was not fully in and knowing it could not stay there. The next morning was the funeral where I was to be a pall bearer.
I sat in the service, listening to all the wonderful things being said about my friend…remembering back on our years together and knowing it was all true. Memories that had been long ago lost, I thought, came flooding back and we were kids again, traveling to Mississippi State games, camping down by the Strong River with our families, water skiing at the reservoir, playing blind-man’s bluff in his sister’s room, breaking out his sister’s window…playing blind-man’s bluff. The emotion rose to the surface again.
Since then, I’ve wondered a lot about “Legacy.” What will mine be? If the nice things are said about me, will they be true? If I die tomorrow, will it be said that mine was “a life well lived”? Will my kids know that I loved them? Really loved them?
Truly, life is, as Scripture says, merely a vapor. It is so fragile and tomorrow…even the next breath…is not promised. What are we doing with them?
I didn’t know the extent to which all of this had affected me until Monday. So much of this has been internalized without my really knowing it. That is, until the stress within became an expression. Strange how that happens. Within a matter of a couple of hours I had blown up at my wife and son and certainly convinced my staff that I’m a maniacal, paranoid freak.
OK, after all of the apologies, I began going through the process of dealing with the stress that was always under the surface following such a difficult week. The thing that I find most ironic is that as much as I have been dealing with leaving a good legacy and appreciating those around me and the time I have with them, the more I end up expressing the exact opposite of how I’m feeling. I love my wife and sons dearly…I appreciate my partners in ministry with which I work. I love the fact that God has blessed me with the opportunity to lead a warm and caring people. Yet over the past few days, the evidence of that has been sparse.
Bottom line…stress kills. It kills us physically by the affects it has on our bodies, but it also kills relationships when left unattended. I have realized that if I want to leave the same kind of legacy that my friend has, I have to manage the stress in my life and prioritize life in such a way that people around me are blessed and God is glorified.
I have been and continue now grieving for the void my friend’s death has left in the lives of his family. I mourn that he has a one year-old and a five year-old that will never really remember or know their father. I hate that, because of our similarities both in stature and attitude, my very presence will be a reminder to his parents of the absence in their own lives. All of this is mentally and emotionally tough. Yet I know that God is God…that His grace is sufficient for all of these concerns and that, because of His mercy, my friend has not been lost. He’s merely changed addresses…and based on that fact, his funeral was a celebration of life ongoing.
But it is still difficult saying goodbye to a friend.