by Joanie Butman

"Goodbye is always Hello to something else." So true, so true.

Late August/early September is a season of goodbyes and new beginnings – much more so than New Year’s in my mind. I suppose when my life is no longer dictated by a school calendar, I may feel differently; but for now, the new year lies before me like a blank page waiting for the next chapter to be written. I approach it eager to discover what God has planned for me. 

As I wrote last week, we dropped our daughter off at college Wednesday. Definitely a milestone goodbye, yet it couldn’t have gone smoother. There was certainly an element of sadness knowing she was leaving the nest, but we were all so excited for this new beginning it tempered the reality that she was branching out from our little nuclear family. She will definitely be in and out of our home for the rest of her life, but she will never again be the little girl who grew up there. Hannah will be different the next time we see her for sure.

This week I will say goodbye to a friend who is moving away to begin a new phase in her life. I am sad to see her leave, but grateful for the time and memories we shared. It is also time to say goodbye to our summer home by the ocean, my constant companion that offers so much peace and comfort during the summer. Our extended family members will scatter to their respective homes to resume their own lives. The shutters will go up on the house as we bid farewell to another summer, full of appreciation for the opportunity to share so many memorable moments with those we love. One of the sweetest was another milestone goodbye of sorts. It was to usher in my niece’s official adulthood – her 21st birthday. She, my daughter and I stayed up until midnight (actually well beyond) to say her last goodbye to childhood and to welcome the first day of her adult life. We laid on the deck cuddled under blankets, watching a meteor shower, just enjoying the company and the night sky. The party was the next night, but I don't know that there were any wise choices going on that night to write about!

The saddest goodbye though was to a young mother of two little girls (ages 2 and 4). Her name was Valerie. Oddly, I never knew Valerie in health. I never even met her in person, yet I felt connected to her in a way I can’t describe; and her death impacted me in a way I never expected. I suppose when you are discussing matters of life and death, conversations reach depths few rarely achieve in the course of daily life. Shared suffering forms fast friendships.

It was her disease that was our common bond. She was a member of the cancer club – not a membership anyone chooses voluntarily. Even so, how you choose to face it is certainly life-defining. She got in touch with me about a year ago through a mutual friend. It is a perfect example of the power of sharing our stories because as I have often heard, “Your mess becomes your message.” When facing a challenge, regardless of what it is, your instinct is to seek out someone with experience for counsel on many levels. For example, if you are in need of a surgeon, you would definitely not choose someone who says, “Well, I’ve never performed that surgery, but I’ve always wanted to try one.” No, you want the person who has done hundreds of those surgeries, a specialist in their field.

When facing cancer, there is wisdom and comfort to be derived from someone who has travelled that road. It doesn’t make them a specialist, but they can definitely relate to many of the issues someone in the same situation struggles with. Not only that, speaking to a stranger offers the freedom to discuss things your loved ones would find too difficult; namely, your death. As I said to the mutual friend who introduced us, “It was a privilege and an honor to know Valerie. I believe we were just walking her home.”

Ruth’s response, “Thank you for being on this journey with me. I trust we will all meet together in eternity,” was an excellent reminder that it is not goodbye I should be saying to Valerie but rather, “Until we finally meet, Godspeed my friend.” I look forward to that day when the answers to life’s mysteries will be made clear to us at last.

There is no doubt that as you approach death whether it by disease or age, you can’t help but reflect back on how you chose to live your life – on the choices you made and where they led. As a parting gift for my daughter, I collected college advice from her aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and various other important people in her life. It was a fascinating exercise, and I was surprised how heartfelt and thoughtful the submissions were. A favorite song of mine by Point of Grace, How You Live, isn’t college-specific, but it is valuable advice regardless of your age. In the wake of Valerie’s death, it is a timely message for all of us. See if you agree.