Not Goodbye, Just Goodnight
by Erin Darst Hein
“Nobody knows how to say goodbye.
It seems so easy ‘til you try.
Then the moment’s passed you by.
Nobody knows how to say goodbye.”
- lyrics from Nobody Knows by the Lumineers
In November, my grandmother was taken to the hospital with pneumonia. My mom jumped on a plane to be at her side. She called when she arrived to tell me that Granny was being moved to hospice and that she didn’t have much time. Then she said, “She’s awake right now and we might not get too many more moments. I’m going to let you talk to her right now.” And then here it was. This numb-hands, blood-pounding in your ears, heart-in-your-throat moment when you might be talking to a person that you cherish for the last time. What can you possibly say?
“How are you?” (stupid, stupid, stupid. Cue me covering my eyes)
“I sure love you, darlin’. I can’t talk long. It’s hard to talk and breathe. <chuckles>”
“I love you too, Granny. I just wanted to say … I just … I mean… I just wanted to say… goodbye.”
“It’s not goodbye, honey. It’s just goodnight. It’s always just goodnight. I love you. I’ve got to cough some more <chuckles>. Goodnight.”
And that was it. She only lived a short time afterwards and the vast majority of that time was unconscious. Just like that, this sassy, fiercely loving, tender soul was gone. Everything I wanted to ask or say or do with her will have to wait until this lifetime is over. It’s such a staggering feeling.
I recently heard the Lumineers’ song “Nobody Knows” and it spoke straight to my soul. How true that nobody knows how to say goodbye. More times than not, the moment will pass us by. Even when I had one of those rare, lovely opportunities to actually speak it to my granny, it would never be enough. It still felt like so many words and moments were ripped from me. I spent a few weeks with those lyrics drifting around in my head, just processing all of the feelings that they stir up in me about not just Granny, but so many passed up opportunities and choices and relationships.
Here’s the thing: at most final partings (and in many relationship dynamics) there will never be A Moment that you get to actually say the word “goodbye”. And you know what? It’s OK. If you get that moment, seize it and cherish it; for all the other goodbyes, we must find peace in another way. The key to that peace may be in unburdening ourselves of the weight of the actual word “Goodbye.” In fact, Dr. Ira Byock (a giant in the field of palliative and hospice care) says that the four phrases that matter most when someone is facing the end of their life are “Please forgive me.”, “I forgive you.”, “Thank you.” and “I love you.”
If we want to be sure that these things are not left unsaid, we can start right now. We don’t have to (and shouldn’t) wait for a goodbye situation. We can find peace in any end-of-a-lifetime goodbye, no matter how sudden and no matter what form it takes, if we say the important things today.
I challenge you to join me in seeking out opportunities this month to say each of these phrases. Let’s write that letter to our past teacher who changed our path and we never went back to thank. Let’s go to Facebook and find our high school acquaintance who we never apologized to for saying that ugly thing to and let’s finally apologize. Let’s say the hard “I love yous” and the even harder “I forgive yous.” And if, by chance, there is an unsaid goodbye in your heart, write a letter and send it to heaven in flame or float it there in water.
Let’s leave the world with just a little bit less that is left unsaid. Let’s live a life where “Goodbye” is no more or less important than “Goodnight”.
“Nobody knows how the story ends.
Live the day, doing what you can.
This is only where it begins.
Nobody knows how the story ends.”
- lyrics from Nobody Knows by The Lumineers
Erin Darst Hein is the daughter of John Darst of Darst Funeral Home. She lives in Kingwood with her husband Evan and her children Jack (6), Caroline (3) and Ian (1). You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read More by Erin:
Part 1: Earliest Memories
Part 2: Holidays on a cemetery
Part 3: This Little Light of Mine
Part 4: Genealogy
Part 5: The Man Behind The Magic
Part 6: No Cancer But a Dose of Perpective
Part 7: A Year Full of Yes
Part 8: Last Moments and First Steps
Part 9: Facing Fathers Day Without Your Father
Part 10: When Children Grieve
Part 11: From Velvet to Violets: Shedding New Light on Saying Goodbye
Part 12: If it Won't Open, It's Not Your Door
Part 13: Love, After All
Part 14: New Beginnings
Part 15: Not Goodbye, Just Goodnight
Part 16: Holding Space for Dying
Part 17: Grieving and Pets: A Family Affair