My son is in the military and was leaving for a six month deployment to the Middle East. Our family had just enjoyed two weeks with him at home prior to his departure and the taste of his presence lingered sweet on my tongue. As a handsome 22 year old, he is talented, smart, and loves to make people laugh. I am so proud of all he has become and having lost one son to suicide, I treasure this one in a special way.
We had exchanged our good-byes before he left our home to return to his base to make final preparations before deploying. Choking back tears, his daddy and I had both whole-heartedly said “I love you” and “we’ll miss you” and “please be safe”.
My sadness and apprehension over his impending departure mounted. Because of military secrecy, our son was only allowed to give us a window of dates for his departure. I knew that once he left the country, he would not have phone service for quite some time. Already, I feared for his safety and dreaded the many months of being out of contact with him.
We had said our good-byes, but why did that not feel like enough?
In a moment of desperation, I texted him, “If you have a minute before you leave, could you please call me to say good-bye?” Something inside of me needed to hear his voice one more time.
But there was no reply. And no phone call during the day or later that evening. Was I too late? Had he already left? Had I missed telling him I loved him one last time?
Sadness settled in my heart.
Then two days later, the evening call came! “Hi Mom!” he laughed. “I’m calling to say good-bye!”
Our conversation was brief and sweet and just what I needed as we exchanged and affirmed our love for each other one more time. I consider it my bonus good-bye, my icing on the cake.
I pondered the idea of good-byes as I lay in my bed that night. How I wished I might have had that same final exchange with my other son Zachary who took his own life without giving me the opportunity to tell him one last time how much I loved him and would miss him.
There is something about a good-bye that brings connection and closure to those in close relationship as they move from one phase of their lives to another. It gently announces, “You are leaving. I am staying. And we both will be ok with that.”
Have you ever stood in the airport and watched loved ones linger over their embrace before one party heads to the tarmac and the other to their car in the parking lot? Or watched the good-byes at the door of a hospital room as visitors reaffirm their love and concern before they reluctantly back out of the room? Or watched a tearful kindergartner cling to his mother’s embrace before tentatively stepping into a new classroom?
A proper good-bye “makes peace” with a difficult situation. Both parties understand the terms, the conditions, and are willing to pay the cost. Both have an opportunity to release their final thoughts, offer comfort, and to fill each other up with as much love as possible. A good-bye is fuel for the long haul. And most importantly, a well-done good-bye offers the hope: “We will see each other again”.
Those of us with suicide losses mourn many things, one of which is often the loss of having had the opportunity to say “good-bye” to our loved one. This is possibly why the other “good-byes” in our lives are so terribly important.
My son is now on his way across the ocean with his military comrades and although I already miss him, a space in my heart feels settled and peaceful.
May each of us be grateful for every “extra” opportunity we are given to show our love to the ones still with us.