How Do You Say Goodbye?

Some people, maybe you, are good at very intimate and personal ways to deal with pain and dying. I am not one of those people. I respect those with the skills and abilities to share the pain and transfer grace and comfort to those in need. In my education in engineering and business, the focus has been on science, numbers, and for the most part, transactions based on logic and reason. For sure, you can't be only a robotic number cruncher as trust and personal feelings are key, but all in all, I'm not cut out to be a social worker or counselor of feelings.

So it was with not only sadness, but personal "fear" when the husband of my only sibling, my lovely and beautiful sister, suffered a surprisingly rapid downturn (apparently with complications from Parkinson's), became unresponsive in ER, and eventually had to be put into hospice in Albuquerque. He died peacefully in a dignified way, surrounded by family. His memorial service at a modern, Unitarian Universal Church was filled with those who were touched by his life as well as my sister's. My wife, daughter, and I stood in the family receiving line, not knowing most of those present, and tried to acknowledge their care and support. My West Virginia accent seemed to return as I explained the many years that I had known him and his family, and how the three of us were connected. Receiving lines at memorial services are emotional and filled with tears and joyous memories.

Only a day or two after driving back home to Austin, I learned that a former boss of mine at Motorola for many years, a significant executive in the development of embedded controllers in the semiconductor industry and a personal friend, had been struck down by seizures and apparently complications of a prior heart attack and Parkinson's as well. My mother died of Parkinson's, and any mention of that insidious disease simply fills me with fear and dread.  This man, a good, honest, humble man, had declined to the point where he was in "home hospice," with professional care but able to remain in his own bed while his last days on Earth pass. I had traded emails with some of my former work  associates, and one of them, a very senior guy (a Mensch in all senses) wrote a wonderful tribute, and I felt that the family might benefit from both my visit to say goodbye, as well as to read the words of honorable praise. So I was able to contact his son and gain permission to visit. This man and I had worked closely for many years, as peers as well as a boss-subordinate relationship. My wife and I knew him and his wife from "way back" in Arizona, so I felt okay in requesting a visit.

The drive to the home took over an hour in typical, terrible, Austin congestion, and gave me some time to think about what I would say. When entering the home, which was the very first house the couple had bought when they moved to Austin from near Phoenix back in the mid-seventies, it reminded me of the humility and common sense of these people. I met all the (grown) children, and hugged his wife. What do you say when there is not much to say? Too much to say? It seemed clear to me that my visit was not a burden and that it was perhaps a positive break in the slow winding down of their loved one's time. After some remembrances of times past, with some funny stories about Christmas parties back in Arizona and ups and downs of the company's recent years (mostly downs as the industry has coalesced into fewer, larger firms), I read the written tribute to the wife and three kids in the living room. There were tears and treasured memories.

At this point, it was clear that the time was right to go in and say goodbye. His wife told me that he was not able to respond to me, but that "he will understand." We walked back into the master bedroom where he lay, under a very neat cover, and with what I suppose would be described as a death mask, or perhaps Parkinson's mask, or both. She woke him and announced that "you have a visitor," and he seemed to respond, at least a little. His eyes flinched a little, and his facial expression seemed to change, if only a bit. I spoke and told him who I was, and how much his life had meant to me. I was there to tell him goodbye and wish him the best.

At that time, with no obvious reaction from him, I took the print-out of the email and told him it was from our mutual "big boss," a man whom all of us held in the greatest respect and affection. I read it word for word, and although it was not clear that his reaction changed, it seemed to me that a door opened and many years of good things passed between us. I said goodbye by also gently rubbing his chest though the covers and left the room with his wife. It was profoundly meaningful to me, and hopefully gave some closure to the family.

There will be a significant memorial service, I'm sure, but the very personal interaction with his family and with him was something I'll treasure forever. Unfortunately, these things are becoming more and more "not rare," as my former work associates and childhood friends and I all pass through our eighth decade (okay, the mid-seventies!) of our brief life here. What a gift is was to say say goodbye to two good people in two weeks. In a very personal sense, I feel that I gained an important element of the human experience along the way.


Please feel free to post a comment here on the blog, or email me directly at <> with any comments. Also, I'll very much appreciate your recommendation of "Contact Sport" and/or "Reunion" to friends. In addition, I'd be pleased to appear at book clubs and/or radio clubs within a two-hour drive of Austin to discuss either book.

3 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing such a touching story. At our age these situations are coming up more and more and it requires us to respond even though it's definitely outside our comfort zone. I commend you for making the very thoughtful and positive effort, Most men will leave it to their wives or just cop out completely because "it's too difficult." I can say as a widow, I was so impressed and grateful to the men friends in my late husband's life who came by to visit him in his declining months. Those conversations brought back wonderful memories that might otherwise be forgotten in the mist of dealing with and fighting his illness. Going the extra mile however uncomfortable for us brings so much comfort for those who are dealing with the most difficult experience we all face....Goodbye
  2. JK James George
    Here are some comments that came in via email. In each case, I have removed the identification of the writer: ******************************************************************************************** 1. Jim, Without embarrassing either of us, may I say that I admire you. I have always wanted to be able to write but I just don't have it in me. I have had an article or two published in radio magazines but not anything serious. I enjoyed "Reunion" very much because we are of the same age both in actual years and ham radio years. It brought back a lot of novice day memories. Those were the days, huh? I just read your blog about your former associate that is (was) on hospice. The way you spoke of him was touching. Since I am now on hospice myself, it was very moving. The way you spoke of him was touching. At this time, I still am living my life as I have been. I drive anywhere I want to go, do the grocery shopping, most of the cooking, etc. In fact, in a couple of weeks we are driving to XXXXX for a wedding and coming back through New Orleans where we spent our honeymoon 48 years ago. As you probably know, hospice patients are usually said to have 6 months to live or less. However my father in law lived on hospice for almost two years. I think I will pass that. I have no pain, etc. I don't feel like I have cancer, so maybe I can ignore it and it will go away...I wish! I do wish that we had met in person and that may happen yet. I just ordered through my daughters your new book for my birthday. Keep up the writing! It's a wonderful talent you have. Finally there is a bit of joy in Mudville! ********************************************************************** 2. Well done! ********************************************************************* 3. Having just lost a friend and former work associate on Sunday evening, I too experienced the challenge of preparing for a home visit a week ago. I was so nervous, and I had to do it not knowing what to expect. Your posting this is “perfect timing”, and the emotions you experienced paralleled ours with my friend and his wife. Thank you, Jim – what a gift! ******************************************************************** 4. Jim: Sincere, from the heart, very well written - you articulate the deep respect, feelings and admiration for many of us. Thank you, Lou ******************************************************************* 5. Hello, Jim. Good morning. I trust that you are doing well. I have been meaning to read your post since you posted it; however, in my own busyness, I did not read it until today. As I read it, I became full of emotion. I don't know who you were writing about and I have not been too good staying in touch with many of my Motorola friends. The years at Motorola were the best years of my corporate life. I was mentored and loved by the many I supported. I have never felt that feeling before. I cherish those days. I wondered if the "mensch" you mentioned was XXXXX? I have a memory of driving along Town Lake and seeing XXXXX running, I yelled, Hello, XXXXX! and XXXXX responded with a large grin and big wave. I remember one day leaving work listening animatedly to my Donna Summer tape cassette and you were next to me in the traffic; you just smiled and waved. Your writing, How Do You Say Goodbye?, was beautifully written. I understood what you meant all too well. I suppose at this age we do learn quickly. Jim, if you do not mind, will you please share with me the friend of whom you were writing? Recently, I looked up an old work associate and called him. He had a landline and was actually listed. He sounded the same with a strong voice. I told him that I called to let him know that I enjoyed working for him and that he taught me a great deal while we worked together. He was taken aback and thanked me. We talked about our families and then we said our goodbyes. With love, ******** ***********************************************************************
  3. Dear Jim, I was very moved by your story. Saying good-bye is not easy, and I felt many of my own emotions as I read yours. I have to look back at my 4 journeys. I can honestly say it was an honor and a privilege to be near my father every day in the last months of his life, and then care for my mother as she had to start a new life. And a few months after my fathers passing we lost our son who fought muscular dystrophy, my son's good bye lasted years, almost daily from when he was diagnosed at 18 months old. When you spoke of being with your dear friend, I know for fact that he knew you and heard very well and clearly all that you said and all that you did not say. It took me back to my mother's passing, just hours before she passed, as I had be whispering to her, for some reason I asked, "mom, do you I am here, do you now who I am", I was shocked when she whispered yes and gave a slight nod of her head, the only response she had given in more than 24 hours. So yes it is good, beautiful, wonderful and right to gut it out and say the goodbyes. Jim, we did not work that closely or frequently together, I wish I had had more opportunity to do so. I always admired you sir, your grace, manner wisdom and humility attract so many to you. Thank you for writing this Jim. I would be great to touch base, more so that I could just shake your hand and show my heart-felt appreciation for a man I admire. God Bless, Walt

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