“Can I see your ID?”

I handed over my driver’s license, watched as the woman in a Frontier Airlines uniform compared the photo and name to my face and boarding pass.

She smiled and returned my ID. “Are you going for a fun weekend?”

Ah, so she’d noticd my destination. Las Vegas, NV. The place of so many wild weekends. The stuff of crazy photos and legendary stories.

If only.

“No.” I swallowed, almost whispered. “I’m going to say goodbye.”

The minute the words were out, I regretted the confession, my raw disclosure to a stranger who couldn’t possibly understand. The grief was mine, not hers.

I couldn’t stop talking.

“My dad is sick. Hospice is coming. I’m going to be with him.”

She stopped schlepping bags on the conveyor belt. Stopped checking IDs and printing baggage receipts. Stopped helping frantic travellers navigate the kiosks. For just a moment, she saw only me.

“Oh, honey. I’m sorry.” The pain on her face revealed evidence of understanding. “I know what it’s like to say goodbye.”

Six days ago–six profoundly short days–I found out my Dad is dying. A month, at most, the doctor said. These are tough words to type, tough words to read. You can’t imagine how sorry I am for that.

But although I am loathe to write an awkward and emotionally-charged post, this is real life. In all its beauty and gore. None of us can escape it, try as we might. The longer we live, the more we’ll face our own goodbyes.

Which why I must, must, must tell you this:

Dying space is sacred space. When the beauty of life meets the reality of death, all things frivolous fade and what is left is holy. What my mother, brother, and I are experiencing right now is nothing short of Divine. Heaven has stooped down to meet us. One of us will go home, the others will remain. But none of us will ever be the same.

Because of this, I won’t be blogging much (if at all) over the next month. Instead, I’m doing my best to say goodbye. I’m learning to love and let go in a way that brings peace and joy, in inexplicable measure, to the one who leaves as well as the ones who remain. This is how we’re embracing our painful goodbye:

We Cry. It goes without saying that weeping is part of the process. What surprises me is the unpredictability of the flood. When I saw the Words With Friends icon on my iPad and know we’ll never share another game together. When I thought about the empty chair at Jacob’s highschool graduation in 9 months. When I tell my little ones how much their Papa loves them. Oh yes, I cry. Because daddy’s life is worthy of an ocean.

We Laugh. For as long as I can remember, my family celebrated every vacation, soccer season, academic accomplishment with ice cream. Dairy Queen, in particular. In fact, we never needed a reason. Regular trips to DQ were always part of our family’s story. Which is why we weren’t surprised when, during a lucid moment, Dad told us to serve Dilly Bars at his funeral. We nodded and laughed, thinking how ridiculously perfect his suggestion. He may be dying, but he refuses to stop smiling. We can do no less.

We Remember. Morning and night, we gather around the hospital bed in the family room. We remember all those fishing trips to Minnesota. We talk about Christmas-tree cutting, family game nights, that crazy trip to Kentucky Lake which we lovingly refer to as “the worst family vacation ever.” We talk about the good and bad, the happy and sad, because all those memories are the glue that made us a family. Funny thing is, in the remembering we see the blessing. All this pain is simply proof of love.

We Sing. We never expected to hear the doctor say the words, “There’s nothing more we can do.” It hurt to hear. I wanted to scream and hurl something. Several somethings. But not dad. When the doctor delivered the verdict, he simply closed his eyes and started to sing: “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!” Yes Dad. When faced with the worst of life, we can still choose to sing.

Thank you for allowing me to withdraw for a time. In a couple weeks, I’ll be back to writing, just as before. Dad wouldn’t want it any other way.

But, for now, I need to cry, laugh, remember and sing with the man who helped make me the woman I am today. Death requires it. I think life on the other side of the goodbye requires it as well.

Have you ever had to say a painful goodbye? How did you cope? 

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