Chicago’s opinion to the contrary, for me it’s not “Sorry” it’s “Goodbye.” I guess the first time I realized how difficult “goodbye” could be was during my summers at sleep-away camp. That last night of camp and the following morning, camp was like the final episode of M*A*S*H, people running around, teary eyed, hugging and bidding each other farewell. It felt almost unbearable to say goodbye to those people who I loved so much.
The first person I remember losing was my great-grandmother. I wasn’t very close to her and her funeral was on my 11th birthday. It upset me more that my party was cancelled than it did that I lost my great-grandma. It’s selfish, but I was 11. Then I lost my grea-grandfather. Funny thing about that, the loss didn’t sink in for years. Even now, I feel sad that he never met my husband, that he never knew my kids. It’s a goodbye that has lasted for 27 years.
Last year I started saying two goodbyes. I started saying goodbye to my cat, Simon, who was 11 years old at the time. I realized he was slowing down, losing weight, getting older. I came to grips (kind of) with the fact that he was going to die. Every day I looked at him with a longing. How could I keep him alive? How could I never have to say goodbye to him? And then the news that my grandmother, who is my best friend in this world, aside from my husband, had a defective heart valve that was worsening. Due to two thoracic surgeries and compromised lung function from years of smoking, she is unable to undergo surgery for the valve. She’s dying. A little bit every day. I still talk to her at least three times a week, she still checks up on my whereabouts like a mother hen, she is still the person I want to tell my good things and bad things to first. And one day, probably not too long from now she won’t be here.
In January 2011, after a month-long battle with acute congestive heart failure, Simon succumbed. My son found him dead on my bedroom floor. The grief was and is overwhelming. His ashes sit in my family room, with a picture of him sleeping. I like to think he’s still here with us, but I think I know better. He’s gone. Such a difficult goodbye. My beloved pet, who thought I was his mother, who licked my nose and snuggled in my hair, slept by my side for 12 and a half years, gone in an instant. No matter what preparation I thought I had done for the moment, I was ill prepared for the emptiness in my heart that day.
Some might think it strange, and even I acknowledge, how bizarre it is that I look at my relationship with my grandmother and my cat in the same light. The parallel is in the unconditional nature of their love for me, mine for them and in their way of being there for me in a way that not many people (I know Simon was a cat) have been. When I lost my first pregnancy, Simon laid by my side while I cried for a week. His purr was like a massage, his rough tongue scratching over my nose and cheeks at every turn shored me up, just a little. My grandmother has been there for me in so many ways I can’t even count. It is impossible for me to imagine the landscape of my life without her. She is a touchstone for me. We talk about everything, joking (sometimes inappropriately, which I love) and we are there for each other. I have tried to prepare myself for that phone call. It’s going to come sooner than later and I know it. When I try to picture how it will be without her, I think it must be what the pre-Columbus explorers thought about falling off the edge of the world. I can’t see over the edge to see what’s there and it scares me. The lesson I learned with Simon is that regardless of how hard I try to prepare myself, to soak up whatever time with her that I can, one day she will be gone and I’ll be without her. No matter how much time I have with her, it will never be enough because I’m greedy and I never want to lose her. It’s a goodbye that will be with me for the rest of my life.