In Great Expectations, Dickens writes, ‘Life is made of ever so many partings welded together.’ Saying goodbye can be difficult, so, as is my default, I’m turning to literature and poetry to find the right words.
Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata provides lovely parting advice:
‘Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story…
…Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here….
With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.’
Leaving on a Jet Plane
When a loved one flies off for a long trip, I always think of At the San Francisco Airport by Yvor Winters. Here’s the final stanza:
The Last Goodbye
Dylan Thomas powerfully expresses the emotions of loss in And Death Shall Have No Dominion where the title’s refrain has extraordinary rhetorical force. Also, Do Not Go Gentle into That Goodnight‘s desperate imperative deeply communicates the sadness and anger of impending death and the poet’s unreadiness to say goodbye. W.H Auden’s Funeral Blues is perfection in form, rhyme and sentiment. The world should not go on just the same after someone has been wrenched out of it prematurely:
‘The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun…’
I’m going to sign off with Alden Nowlan’s This is What I Wanted to Sign Off With. From the perspective of the unwell loved one at the end of life, it is simple, personal and lyrical:
‘You know what I’m
like when I’m sick: I’d sooner
curse than cry. And people don’t often
know what they’re saying in the end.
Or I could die in my sleep.
So I’ll say it now. Here it is.
Don’t pay any attention
if I don’t get it right
when it is for real. Blame that
on terror and pain
or the stuff they’re shooting
into my veins. This is what I wanted to
sign off with. Bend
closer, listen, I love you.’