November 17th, 2018

By the Way: Saying goodbye

By Medicine Hat News on June 9, 2018.

How do we say goodbye? Roy Oswald, in “Running Through the Thistles” (Alban Institute, 1978), suggests that how we last said goodbye on the phone, or ended a relationship, bid farewell to a gathering of family and friends, disengaged from a job or church or school or community to go elsewhere, and how we will eventually leave this world all share a similar pattern, a pattern that can play out over a matter of minutes or months or more. It can leave us and others with unresolved feelings and unfinished business, or offer closure and a sense of acceptance — or a combination.

When we say goodbye in a way that gives us and others closure, we fulfill our needs to:

– be active participants in the farewell process, rather than passively letting it happen to us

– “get our affairs in order” — provide others with the information they need to do what needs to be done after we leave

– “[let] go of old grudges” and find some sense of “resolution and reconciliation”

– say “thank you”

Oswald also states that the farewell process involves the parts of grief identified by Elisabeth KŸbler-Ross: “denial, bargaining, anger, guilt, acceptance.”

Oswald makes the case that should we approach our significant goodbyes like a child running headlong through a thistle patch to get home to comfort and snacks as soon as possible after school, we may find ourselves inflicting more pain than is needed — prying excessive briars from feet and legs after making it to the other side. However, it occurs to me we cannot float above the patch either, like thistle down lifted by the wind. And so, Oswald tells us, we find our way through as carefully as possible.

There will be pain, and we must allow ourselves to feel it, for pain points to a need to honour the landscape of our own and others’ hearts. We can notice the beauty of the relationship: the flowers and colours. We can touch the feathery down, gently. We can respect the prickly places in the relationship, but we cannot avoid them. If we try, sooner or later we will realize they have remained thorns in our flesh that we must acknowledge, if we want to heal.

Yet while the nails were gone, holes remained in the resurrected Christ’s hands and feet. Sometimes healed wounds leave marks even as new life rises. In life’s goodbyes, as we are able may we all tread honestly, courageously and with care for others and ourselves. May the presence of love and promise of new life give us the hope we need to make it to the other side.

At the end of July, I leave Medicine Hat to serve a congregation in Edmonton. This is my last “By the Way” column. Much gratitude to the Medicine Hat Ministerial, Medicine Hat News and you its readers for the gracious opportunity to share in this spiritual dialogue through the last four years.

The Rev. Chelsea Masterman is a member of the ministry team at Westminster, Gordon Memorial, and Peace United Churches.

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