by Joanie Butman
A few years ago, my father-in-law decided he didn’t like the idea of saying goodbye, so he stopped using the term. He changed it to “see you later” or “see you in a few months” – always something open ended. When I asked the reason for his sudden aversion to saying goodbye, he explained that the term sounded too final. In light of recent events, now more than ever, there are tears in his eyes as he sends us off. I’m sure wondering whether he’ll see us again is weighing heavy on his heart – and ours as well.
In order to appreciate the following story, you have to understand the not always amicable push/pull relationship I have with the Colonel (my father-in-law). The most common these days is who’s driving when we go anywhere. Despite the fact that he’s 97, I always lose that argument.
Just last summer I discovered that the reason he keeps his coveted Makita drill in the dining room is so I can’t find it! I shouldn’t have been shocked but I was, mainly because I’ve been borrowing it from his covert hiding spot for years. When I told him his secret was out, he didn’t even try to deny it. Instead he conceded, “Half the time I don’t know whether to be irritated because it isn’t there when I need it, or impressed that a woman knows how to use it.” He describes me as ‘unusual’ because I use tools and speak my mind – traits he definitely doesn’t value in a woman.
Having vastly different beliefs in many areas, he and I have engaged in many ‘lively,’ fascinating conversations. The longest one has to be our ongoing discussion about the existence of God – usually initiated by him. I’ve never had any desire to convert him. Quite the opposite; he seems to have a vested interest in converting me to atheism. Maybe if I point out that there aren’t any goodbyes from my perspective, he might reconsider. In the case of one Christian to another, our farewells are always open ended because we know death is not the end but just the beginning. It’s not goodbye, it’s until we meet again.
The day after his wife died, I quietly posted this image on his refrigerator. It was the only comfort I had to offer his aching heart. He never said a word, and it disappeared shortly thereafter. I assumed he threw it out. However, following her memorial, it mysteriously reappeared on the fridge – creased and worn. Apparently, he’d been carrying it around in his pocket. I was stunned that it was still in his possession, and even more so, that he’d returned it to its original spot where he can see it during every meal that he now eats in solitude. I don’t know if his heart is softening, but I do know he wants to believe he will see his wife again. As he explained to me, his scientific mind just keeps getting in the way.
The reason I share this story is to illustrate that you never know the impact you might have by your choice to share “the reason for the hope that you have” – provided you do it with gentleness and respect, as Peter suggests (1 Peter 3:15). It was a gutsy move, choosing to share my Christian belief with the Colonel in his fragile state. I made it, fully prepared for his standard rebuff. Yet given the circumstances, I offered the only thing of value I had that might help ease his pain – my faith. I leave it to God to do the rest.
Goodbyes come in many forms – some sadder than others. The following two songs are beautiful examples of a Christian’s approach to death. Matthew West wrote the first for his grandmother’s funeral. The second one mirrors the message I gave Paul.