Many of us are uncomfortable with goodbyes. A goodbye can be temporary or final. It can mean “I’ll see you again soon,” or “hope we will see one another in this lifetime.” Sometimes, it means goodbye forever.
This month it seems like everywhere I turn I am saying goodbye–to our two children who are both freshman in college, to my colleagues and patients at The 1917 Clinic as I get ready to transition from my work for the past 15 and 1/2 years to a new position as Director of Pastoral Care at the hospital, and to friends who have moved away, and to one who has died.
Learning to say goodbye is a way to honor and appreciate a relationship and is an important part of our lives. It is a way for me to say to you that you matter to me. It is important for me to say goodbye.
In Alla Bozrath Campbell’s book, “Life is Goodbye, Life is Hello: Grieving Well Through All Kinds of Loss,” she talks about grieving as a positive process that can actually bring healing and wholeness in our lives. Without saying goodbye, I don’t invest in future relationships as deeply because I won’t want it to hurt when we part in the future.
So recently I took time to say goodbye to Harry Wingfield this month before he moved to San Antonio, TX.
If we had a “poster patient” at The 1917 Clinic, Harry would be high on the list. He certainly isn’t the only one, but he is one of the ones I have known.
When I met him 16 years ago he was on the interview committee for my job as chaplain at the clinic. A few months later he was so sick in the hospital from HIV/AIDS that twice I prayed with him, said goodbye and walked out of the room expecting him to die soon.
He lived and new medicines became available in 1996. In 2002, he was hired by our clinic to work with data in our research program, first temporarily then permanently. I helped him say goodbye to his Support Team we had developed for him with volunteers from Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church because he was doing so well and didn’t need their assistance anymore.
Harry said goodbye to his disability check (imagine that), and went to work full-time. He said it took multiple times at the Social Security office to get them to stop sending his check. They just weren’t used to that request.
Eventually he was offered a job promotion. And now he has made a recent career move to accept a new job in San Antonio and is off for a new adventure. I will miss him but he is doing what we hope many of our patients will do in living with HIV–have a life!
We went to lunch and told one another how much we appreciated one another, remembered fun and difficult times together, laughed and became misty eyed when we said our goodbye. I am so proud of Harry Wingfield. We may see one another again in this lifetime, maybe not. None of us really know that. But I am at peace with that, either way. It will be ok. Harry’s influence will be with me as he taught me about goodbyes.
We have closure, and it is ok, no matter what. That is what goodbyes are all about. It is well between us.
In the meantime, Harry Wingfield and hundreds of other persons living with HIV have taught me to say goodbye to old ways of living and to live life fully.
And for this valuable lesson, I thank you Harry, Jeff, Alan, Cynthia, Eric, Greg, Ruth, Billy, Mary, and hundreds more who are living life fully.
Godspeed to you all.
I love you, goodbye. It will be ok.