Friday, April 22, 2016

The First Goodbye

The writing group at my local library celebrated poetry month by talking about sonnets at this month's meeting. I couldn't be there (for reasons I'll talk about in a moment), but the coordinator did ask me to send one in to share. I had a sonnet in mind, something I'd already written as part of one of my books, but at the last minute I sent her this instead:

The first goodbye did hasten toward its close
Upon swift wings and mercurial feet,
But as the mem’ry lingered I supposed
That though goodbye was bitter, it was sweet.

A thousand more goodbyes it did portend
And promised of hellos much sweeter still;
Stretching out before us to the end,
A lifetime built together with good will.

Through brief, goodbye was seal’d with silent vow,
Revealed in tender touch and ardent sighs,
That we would be together here and now
As one more transient moment passes by.

As I reflect, so many years now past:
That first goodbye was sweeter than this last.

So the reason that I was not at the writing group this month was because I was at my grandfather's memorial service. My Poppop was a man of integrity and strong character, and he served his family, his country and his community selflessly all his life. He was quiet and humble, good-natured, unwavering in love, faith and compassion. I'm proud to be his granddaughter, and I hope I live my life with as much dignity as he did.

The sonnet itself isn't specifically a tribute to him but about final goodbyes in a broader sense. As a far more fitting tribute, my uncle performed this song (he's the singer), the recording of which was played during the memorial along with a slideshow of beautiful pictures my cousin put together. And, particularly special to me, my dad spoke about my grandfather's life with eloquence and even some very fitting humor. He told us my Poppop used to say, "Better to light a candle than curse the darkness." I want to remember that.

I'll also remember one particular long car ride with him when I was a kid. He had come to pick up my brother and me to take back to his house for a week, and we started talking about World War 2. He told me story after story about people and places and dates. I marveled out loud that he could remember so much. "Well, I lived through it," he said simply. I think that was the first time it dawned on me that my grandparents had whole lives outside of being grandparents.

He didn't talk about himself much, at least not that I witnessed, but there was one afternoon when I had lunch with him and my grandmother and I asked him about his police work. He told me all about both his hardest and his most rewarding moments, and I felt so much pride and respect for him and the things he had done. People like him are the rocks that communities are built on.

I got to say goodbye to him the night before he passed away. He was able to speak to me and to express how fiercely he loved his family. I'm so glad I was able to be there.

We love you too, Poppop. You're our hero.


  1. It also strikes me that this is possibly both your sons' first final goodbye with a lifetime of goodbyes (and hellos) ahead of them as well. I'm very sorry for your loss and I truly hope your writing helps you find peace in this trying time.

    1. Thank you.

      Yes, it was their first. The baby obviously had no idea what was happening, but I was surprised by the toddler's insightful questions about death. It was a little more than I was prepared for, but hopefully I handled the situation well.