An ‘Irish Goodbye’ usually refers to that moment when a person who leaves a group sneaks away out the door without saying goodbye but for most of us in Ireland, saying goodbye is a much more dramatic affair. It’s usually the longest part of the night with several breaks every few metres until eventually the host is practically on the guest’s lap in the car.
When I think of this type of goodbye that is all too common here it reminds me of how reluctant we are to say goodbye to the people we love. We cling on to every moment, not wanting it to end for fear that once they’re gone, the party is over and we are only left with the memories.
This is the most tragic and bittersweet thing about life that we know to expect but are never prepared for. No matter how we knew the person, saying goodbye to someone who has made us feel a little less alone in a world that we continually battle to understand is something we never get used to. It pushes us in to a place we don’t want to be, away from the living that feels cold and barren and allows thoughts to gather in our minds that only propagates the feeling that we are all alone after all.
Losing my sister was a traumatic experience as most losses are. She was too young and experienced too much pain which meant the only condolence was that she wasn’t going to suffer anymore. My problem with this was just that – she wasn’t going to suffer anymore. She wasn’t going to feel anything anymore and we were all left to feel everything; joy, sadness, excitement, love, hate. I struggled, and still do, with how unfair it all was that her ability to feel was taken away.
These struggles are what led me to never take for granted the ability to feel the best and worst things that life can throw at us. Suffering a great loss can shake us to our core but being able to feel this despair is one of the life’s most cruel of gifts. It might sound a little masochistic but even on the days I feel in pain or scared or angry I am at least relieved to feel.
Unfortunately grief is a lifelong experience that never really goes away. When we lose someone who we weren’t ready to let go of we are left with a hole that can grow big and small even years later. We lost Amy six years ago and there are days when I feel such an urge to talk to her it can overwhelm me. She was the middle sister that glued us three together and it’s difficult to pretend that we don’t need that link to make me and Shannon feel whole. Which is why I don’t pretend. When I need to talk about her or share a funny story I will. When I miss her uncontrollably I’ll call my parents or sister. I will never shut her out because I need to embrace her in my life wherever possible.
The thing is, I appreciate all too well how much of a miracle it is that I’m even alive in the first place. It’s a miracle our planet is in the position it is in the solar system. It’s a miracle I was born in a country with access to modern medicine. It’s a miracle my parents decided to fancy each other and get it on (in the most romantic of ways I’m sure). And it’s a miracle I am the only one in this world who was lucky enough to be a big sister to Amy.
Sometimes we’re forced to say goodbye before we’re ready. The reality of how delicate and uncontrollable life can be is thrusted upon us and we are bereft with the knowledge we may never see our loved ones again. What we do have and what can never be taken away from us is the memories. The moments shared together happened and can never unhappen. They will always remain and that’s how we can ensure that the people we have lost are never truly gone from us. They need only be on the edge of our thoughts and the end of our breath. We can take as many breaks as we need before we reach the door and say our final goodbye.