On Saying Goodbye

Two Saturdays ago we loaded up the car, walked next door to Gil and JD's in Oakland, went into the bedroom one at a time and said goodbye to Gil for the last time, knowing we would never see him again. This was made all the more difficult because he was saying goodbye to us for the last time too.  We spent the week dreading this moment. What should we say? What can we say?

I marvel that this moment happens at all. How long have we lived in a world where it's possible to depart from your daily life in the place you call home, travel thousands of miles, be present at the threshold of someone's death, then return home in time to refill your pet's water dish? There's something cinematic and strange about saying a final farewell to someone who's still very much alive.

These moments used to belong to the people around the dying - immediate family, friends and partners who understood the end of a loved one's life as part of a physical as well as emotional continuity, a tapestry of daily life within which, this death is woven. They are there to pick up the pieces and carry on. They don't have to say goodbye to someone who's looking back at them holding a glass of water because they aren't leaving. Of course there are goodbyes. But they are the goodbyes of those left behind, not the goodbyes of those getting in a car and driving away.

In the end, what we said didn't really matter much. We knew how much we all meant to each other and could understand the anguish of the moment quite well without words. Gil could barely talk by now anyway. We hugged, kissed, held hands, filled the silence with a few words that probably didn't needed saying because we're human and we do that sort of thing.

Then we turned around, walked out of the room, got in the car and drove back to Oregon.

On Thursday May 5th, at around 9:45pm, Gil passed away. I was picking up the dinner plates and Carolyn was sitting quietly, thinking about losing her cousin. The National's "Think You Can Wait" was playing. JD called us to let us know. The world has grown a little smaller and a good deal sadder. At that moment, we joined those who were left behind in grief.

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