The story so far

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Saying Goodbye

To be honest, I was not expecting this to win the vote. I thought I’d be able to write about saying goodbye once we had said goodbye to everyone. I am grateful though that I didn’t have to write a poem. I’m not sure why I put that option in really.
Of course, I already have some things to say on the subject and I can always add to this later when we are on the plane, crying tears of sadness. I probably will cry, but in private and I will enjoy it.

Anyway, what I initially had in mind is a description of our friends, probably with something about what they mean to us and what we will miss about them. This will come with plenty of photos. That won’t be interesting to most, but will be a good way for us to remember the people important to us.

Now I have to think in advance, I reckon that the act of saying goodbye itself needs to be discussed. Other people seem to enjoy saying goodbye; all the hugs and the words said which are more important than words said ten minutes before. I am terrible though. I don’t know what to say and who to hug, who to kiss, how many times to kiss them, whether to hug first and kiss later.

The worst occasion was saying goodbye to my nan. She was ill, dying of lung cancer and had been going downhill over a period of a few months. I forget the precise timescales involved, but I got a call from my dad to say she had been taken into hospital and there wasn’t long left. I had declined to visit my granddad a few years earlier in a similar situation, but now I was a bit older, probably a bit more considerate and I knew she would appreciate it.

I took the trip down to Portsmouth immediately and sat with her, my mum and my dad for about an hour. These are desperate times; you can’t begin to understand how the person in the bed feels. I think she believed in God, so at least she had visions on cherubs on fluffy clouds to comfort her. I do wonder though if believers keep the faith even until the last moment. I would find it hard to keep it up at the point when it really mattered.

I questioned a friend at work on the subject. He does believe in God but not heaven and hell, I wondered what the point is in putting yourself through all that without the promise of eternal life. I could believe that more myself though, I mean it’s all the scientifically unlikely stuff that goes with belief that I find hard to deal with.

He reckons re-incarnation is more likely than heaven and I could also understand that. The spirit definitely lives within the brain, but being electrical energy, there is no reason why it cannot manifest itself on external systems. One issue he had however which made him sceptical was that he was not able to explain the fact that the worlds population is increasing. I reckon that if more plankton are turning into humans than the reverse direction then you probably wouldn’t notice the drop in plankton numbers. Also you’ve probably heard the expression “You are half them man he was” maybe its more literal than we think.

Anyway, when the time came to say goodbye to my nan, I did not know what to do. Clearly this was a very important time and I needed to show her that I loved her and would miss her. I ended up giving her a hug and saying “see you later”. Afterwards I dwelled on those words and I questioned myself. Was it right that the last words she heard from me were a lie? On reflection though, it was probably better to say that than to directly confront her death and I know she appreciated the visit and she knew she was loved.

Later at the funeral the spectre of religion reared itself again. “The spectre of religion”, I like that. Anyway, my dad was due to give a reading from the bible, but he was very upset. He was angry I think because my nan had believed in God all her life, she had been a good person, raising lots of money for leukaemia charities and taking in cats and dogs from the street. She also had a large collection of buttons and badges that she found in the street. She was a bit of a hoarder.

Anyway, she died relatively young and that is hard to put into perspective and dad was struggling. My mum approached me and asked me to do the reading. When I asked why dad didn’t want to read it, mum told me that he didn’t believe in God and found it hypocritical. I wondered why the family were trying to turn me into a hypocrite when they were not prepared to do this to themselves. I knew there was more to it than that though and dad was just very upset. I voiced my belief that the important thing was that nana believed in God and it was important that her wishes be honoured in the reading. Mum told me “that’s just it, towards the end dad isn’t sure if she really did believe”. It was a bit late notice to change the ceremony, so I read it anyway. It’s only words, but the important thing is that we were all there and we all cared.

After the service, my brother hugged my dad. That memory will stay with me for a long time. Anyone who knows them and can picture my dad with tears on his face and my brother in a suit will know why. Fortunately most goodbyes are less permanent than this and this is where I would like to return the focus.

There are dominant and passive goodbyers. I am definitely the latter and because of that I have to anticipate exactly what variation is expected of me under different circumstances. I have very good reaction times when faced with simple tasks like catching a mosquito with my bare hands. But saying goodbye is more complex than that. It is not a predetermined action, but a complex interaction which may require fine tuning at the final moments before the incursion.

The hardest situation is when I come up against another passive. I mean, both is waiting to anticipate the other’s first move and a kind of self-unstablising feedback loop develops, amplified in the harmonics of the subtle variations in movement until the whole system breaks down, usually with embarrassing consequences. Mainly this applies to women because saying goodbye to a man is quite well defined. Why do women have to make things complicated?

I have been kissed twice before by men, but never in England. They both came as a shock, but were not unpleasant. The most recent was when I visited Deborah and Olivier in Switzerland. They are French friends from London.

Olivier and I have a kind of “friendship by default” because I was first friends with Deborah. Deborah was a colleague from work and she used to teach me French at the pub after work once a week. I enjoyed having the company of an attractive French female, perhaps more than the progress I was making in French. Anyway, once she had left work, we moved away and we would occasionally meet up as couples for the weekend.

Olivier used to really stress me out because he would do really mad things, like flying a power kite within a few meters of small children playing in my local park. He and I both shared a passion for kiting and we used to meet up and do this together, but I still was nervous of him.

Since they have had children, he has mellowed a lot. He is a good father and is very considerate to both Deb and Clement, their young son. He still has the mad streak, but he now seems to do it in a controlled way. When we stayed with them for example, he popped out to ride his bike up a mountain before dinner. Strange, but definitely doing no harm to others.

Anyway, I probably spent more time with Olivier while we were in Switzerland together than I did with Deborah. She was pregnant and has lost some of her agility, but actually, it is because Olivier and I had great fun together. We played with the dog in the sea, explored our love of fine coffee together, talked about kiting and played Nintendo Sports Resort until he had had enough of me shooting his biplane from the sky.

Its funny, I still love Deborah, but I now really appreciate Olivier. I think I tried hard with Olivier and him with me, both of us out of respect for Deborah but now I can say, I think we actually enjoy each other’s company and it comes naturally.

Anyway, when we left, I went to shake his hand as you do, but I received a kiss from him instead. I cocked it up of course and it ended up in a semi limp wristed hand-grasp-with-kiss. But even though I am making more of it than it is, I was really happy that Olivier now sees me as a close friend and with that I can live with the embarrassment.

That’s not to say I don’t try and avoid embarrassment. I am not a luvvy person, or I am not a person who likes to display his feelings unless it is to people very close to me. Over the years I have developed some strategies. Standing behind Hannah often works well because I can observe and do as she does. There is a flaw in that plan though because she usually kisses men and outside France, that would not work well for me.

Another tactic I employ involves using the children. One of the benefits of having kids is that they are totally unreserved. Esme especially has not been marred by the need to conform to social norms and they have no hang-ups. If you are tired at a wedding for example and don’t want to make polite chit chat with other guests, you can simply play with the kids. I don’t play with the kids at home, but there are benefits of doing this in public as people think you are a wonderful father and it is completely mindless.
When I have to say goodbye now, I often pick up the children. It totally removes the attention from me. That way I can just give a quick kiss on the cheek which little room for confusing variations.

Reading this, I seem to be like someone who likes to avoid any kind of affection or physical contact. That’s not true; I just don’t always know what is expected. There are people like Hannah’s friend Danny who always gives a massive hug, or Deborah, who always gives the two French cheek kisses. With them I know where I stand and I’m a bit more natural in what I say to them. I guess I just have to get to know people before I can be comfortable saying goodbye to them.

I don’t really know what I am trying to say. Maybe I am saying that I don’t like spontaneity, but I know this is not true. I think it is more that there are lots of people out there with different ways of saying goodbye. I just want to make them feel comfortable by doing so in a way they are comfortable with. In my confusion however, I can end up making everyone feel more uncomfortable. It’s a messy situation, but I seem to be one of the only people I know how feels that way.

There is definitely a danger in writing your thoughts down as they develop in your own mind. I don’t seem to have reached a solid confusion, but at least I have been on the journey and know a little more about myself now.

1 comment:

  1. you say goodbye, i might say hullo, you all may be sad but others will be glad, to see you there. those who remain will see you there, and again here.

    Imagine how it was with the big migrations in the early 20th century and even in the 1950/60s. people went without the wealth to ever return. There was no internet, slow post and phones were so expensive. So saying goodbye in a couple of weeks will be tough but not the end of relationships. Some people you may see more of, as they come to stay for weeks on end!