Have you ever parted with someone, only to realize later it was for the last time? Sometimes when we say good-bye it’s for good.
I had a good friend throughout my youth who was smart, quirky, and interesting. I liked her a lot. She lived near my grandmother on Pea Ridge, so I saw her occasionally after we graduated. Then she disappeared on me–up and joined the army. The next thing I knew she had died on the Autobahn in Germany. Gone while still a teenager. I think that was the first time it hit home that people could disappear so abruptly.
On a lighter note, sometimes people disappear but don’t die. I had another friend from high school, and we ran into one another on the quad at Murray State a couple of years after graduation. We started dating, but it only lasted a few weeks. I was young and pretty stupid, and I didn’t always do or say the right things. One Saturday evening after our date I said something thoughtless (I’m fairly certain of it) and it angered her. After leaving, she returned to yell obscenities at my door and throw rocks at my window. I thought she would cool down and we would talk it over, but I haven’t seen or spoken to her since. That was 29 years ago.
Then there was the girl I had taken to the senior prom. She and I had similar tastes in art, music, and movies. She coaxed me into going to see my first “R” rated film (Carnal Knowledge), though I was only sixteen years old at the time. We got reacquainted at MSU. She was dating a film major from Michigan, and one evening she stopped by my apartment. It was late summer. We ordered pizza and talked about where we were with our lives and what we had planned. If you had told me that would be the last time I would see her, I wouldn’t have believed you. I remember her shining blonde hair–how she had let it grow all the way to her waist. We were 22.
Sometimes, regret definitely plays a part after someone’s disappearance. I was a restaurant manager in Virginia some years later, and I had an employee who was clearly troubled. Everyone liked him, and he did good work when he was there, but the crowd he ran with began to affect his attendance. I hated to, but I had to fire him. We had strict rules about not showing up for work, and he was clearly in violation of all of them. A few months later I read that he died of wounds received in a knife fight. No doubt it was over something stupid. When something like that happens, and you’ve been in a position of authority over a person, it makes you re-examine your relationship. Could I have counseled him better? Would it have made any difference? Probably not, but you never know.
I’ve written about how my boss and mentor was killed. His disappearance was another that couldn’t have been foretold. I last saw him before Christmas and wished him Happy Holidays, not knowing we would never work together again. Life can be so abrupt, so cruel.
Sometimes people disappear and we more or less expect it. How many times have we said of someone, “There’s an accident waiting to happen.” And then it does, and no one is surprised. Or, if they are they don’t say it. It’s also more or less expected when we lose our elders, especially the ones who are frail and in really poor health.
But it’s the unexpected ones–the ones we don’t have closure with that tend to stick in our minds. What would we have said or done differently had we known we would never see or speak with them again?
And does it change how we say good-bye to people today?
© Wade Kingston
Check out my other blogs at: