Have you ever counted how many times per day you say hello or goodbye to people? Think about it. Answering the phone; texting; greeting a salesperson upon entering a store; welcoming a visitor to your home; leaving a party; and on and on. Through the course of one day alone, it all can add up to a pretty large number. Right?
The bigger question, however, is this. When you offer your hellos or goodbyes, do you ever wonder whether this particular encounter with this specific person could be your last?
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This weekend, I flew down to Florida to visit with my parents and grandparents. (It was an added bonus that my brother, sister-in-law, and nephews also were in town.) Friday and Saturday were holidays, the last two days of Passover, so it was the perfect opportunity to hang out with the other end of the age spectrum. (I was with my kids last weekend.) And, despite the food restrictions, the visit was pretty typical. We hung out at the pool for hours; caught up on family happenings and gossip; enjoyed large-group family meals; and relaxed in each other’s company. It was lovely.
At the age of fifty-four, I know that I am fortunate that both of my parents are alive. My dad is seventy-six and my mom is seventy-five. But, even more incredible is the fact that I still have two grandparents.
My mother’s parents are ninety-seven and ninety-six. My faithful readers know, from different blog posts I’ve written over the years, how much I love, respect, and have learned from these two special people…Holocaust survivors who almost didn’t survive their twenties. I’ve had many opportunities during the course of my life to live with and visit with them, and never tire of hearing their stories, complaints, or philosophies. As the eldest grandchild, I truly have been privileged to have them for all of these years.
This morning, we kicked off our last day of the weekend with breakfast at the Original Pancake House, which happens to be my grandparents’ favorite “go to” restaurant. (Although the food is far from gourmet, we willingly appease them.) From there we took them back to their condo, looked through some old family photos, and prepared to say our goodbyes.
But this goodbye didn’t feel like the so-many-other-goodbyes. My grandparents’ frailness was apparent this weekend. I finally noticed just how very old they are. Diminished eyesight and the loss of hearing have isolated them from the active lives they once led. The deaths of siblings and close friends have made their own mortality a frightening reality. Daily enjoyments only come from the occasional outing (mostly to doctors appointments) or from visits and phone calls. How many days or weeks or months or years do they really have left?
As my grandmother hugged and kissed me goodbye, she started to cry. Of course, I did too. I felt like my heart was breaking. I promised to return in August for my grandfather’s ninety-eighth birthday. (Crap, I thought through my tears, that’s still three-and-a-half months away!) I promised to call more than once a week between now and then. I made her promise that this was not “goodbye,” but rather “see you soon.”
I didn’t want to go, but had to. I left with a horrible feeling. This goodbye definitely didn’t feel like past goodbyes. I never realized how previously nonchalant I’ve been about departing from my grandparents…not to mention countless others. I never thought about the importance of making each and every hello and goodbye matter. I never again will take these moments for granted.
I pray this wasn’t our last goodbye.