Will it be the last time I ever say it? I know I must say it at least fifty times a day, beginning early in the morning, all throughout the day and into the night. Just about all of these perfunctory "goodbye's," are like putting a period on the end of sentence. It's just what you do. 'Bye. See you tomorrow. Later.
I really never give these goodbye's a lot of thought in the moment - "bye honey" to my partner as she drops me off at the train in the morning, "bye everyone" as I sign off from conference calls at work, "bye, I love you, talk to you later" to my mother, my sisters and my children whom I phone almost daily. When I stop and think about it, there's something quite presumptuous about that "talk to you later" part. What if I don't? Taking a goodbye for granted is a luxury I know I don't have, but somehow that knowledge keeps getting filed away, in the "what-a-damn-dreary-thought-I-just-don't-want-to-think-about-right-now section of my brain, buried deeply under the more cheerier sections, like "55 is still young," and "people-are-living-longer-these-days."
Every now and then though it does strike me that a goodbye might really be the final one. This somber line of thinking usually happens more often than not, right before I'm about to get on a plane, which I do quite often for work. Without fail, a news story about a plane crash the day before, or morning of my departure, elevates the "doom and gloom" files to the top of my "to do" pile and forces me to take saying goodbye much more seriously. Inevitably my mind swirls with horrendous thoughts about my possible impending death, and I suffer through a seemingly never-ending loop of my own voice playing in my head, "what if this is it?" and me answering that with "God, please let it be quick." Then I move on to revelling in the life insurance, IRAs and 401k and money in my savings that my children and partner will get to help assuage their grief while at the same time my thumbs begin a mad frenzy of "texting" everyone I cherish so I can express my undying love and let them know I "just wanna say 'bye!" Just in case. (Of course I hope it's literally my un-dying love I've just expressed.)
I grew up with the adages "tomorrow is not promised," and "live every moment as if it's your last," part of some "food for the soul" we're force fed, and every bit as morbid as a lullabye sung unthinkingly by grandparents and parents of my generation to babies who haven't even been here that long - "...and when the bough breaks the cradle will fall, and down will come baby cradle and all." It's almost as if we're socialized to believe we must have those constant reminders that we're all going to D-I-E or God forbid, we just might happily never think about it. It's bad enough being forced to think about one's own mortality, much less the fact that one's crossing over might include a little pain and agony right beforehand, leaving those left behind with never-to-be fulfilled wishing that they'd at least had the chance to "say goodbye."
Somehow saying goodbye to those I love given that gloomy backdrop, even if it's via text messages, wraps those goodbyes in the importance they should always have, which is whenever I say it, and too, it gives them the chance to say it back! I save and savor those text replies saying "I love you 2! See you when you get back!" right before the "Please turn off all electronic devices at this time..."
Saying goodbye is such a precious gift we give to one another. Really. It's a gift whose importance we may not think about in the moment, even though that goodbye may just be the very last one.