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Saying goodbye for the last time

Have you had to say goodbye to someone you know you’ll never see again? Whether from dying or distance or something else, it’s very difficult, but can be beautiful.

Traveling to Maine in October to see three dear friends (and the changing leaves), I felt a bittersweetness in being with them. Time together was wonderful and heartfelt, yet I knew I may never see them again. I may not go East again, as my family is in the West. Travel is so difficult and expensive and the effort necessary is more than I’m used to now.

How to say goodbye? I knew it would be coming so I let it sit with me before the trip. Friends said to recall old memories together, and tell them how important they have been in my life. It ended up happening so naturally and just as it was supposed to. Some tears, some really deep heart connections, very poignant.

With so many different modalities of communication available now, it’s easy to stay in touch. However, somehow it’s not quite the same as spontaneously laughing together, hugging for no particular reason, watching each other as we pour out our hearts. Being in person is so much more real, and natural.

If I hadn’t loved them as I do, my life would have been different. And I think I may have not been as sensitive, not as vulnerable. If we give love to others, we open our hearts and there is always a chance we get hurt, but there’s a bigger chance of feeling a deep softness, true caring, and unconditional connection and acceptance. Loving is losing, eventually. We grow closer to the human experience, the ability to feel. And we come to a more tender, and undefended place.

David Whyte says in his book, “Consolations”:

“The ultimate touchstone of friendships is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”


“There is no possible path we can follow where we will be untouched by the heartbreak, the difficulties, and the joys that move us and move through us. The only path possible seems to be in giving ourselves unconditionally to the conditionality of each overwhelming, disturbing, and rewarding guise of love.”

In Blackwater Woods

“To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.”

– Mary Oliver

When it’s time to say goodbye, it certainly is more difficult. Courage. Respect. Honor of our time together. Thank you for what you have meant to me. Real words, my own words in leaving them. Tough to do, but if not now, when?

Life is impermanent. It seems more in my awareness with this trip, and with the early winter season, the falling leaves, the baring tree branches, longer nights. Loss is more common, more evident and closer to home.

As we move into these holidays and perhaps spend time with loved ones, be mindful of their gifts to you in your life, not just the ones in boxes with fancy ribbons. There’s a certain grace and reflection that comes with old age, and being conscious and grateful of these personal relationships we have is the best gift.

Martha McClellan has lived in Durango since 1993 and has been an educator, consultant and writer. Reach her at mmm@bresnan.net.