Saying Goodbye

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Death is our most constant companion, a threat, a fate, an inevitability we dodge, cheat, avoid, and dance with on a daily basis. The ancient Greeks believed in a group they called the fates, three women who decided the length of our lives on the day of our birth. As we travel the tortuous path of our life we each see the lives of friends, family and acquaintances come to a close. Sometimes accidental, sometimes disease, sometimes acts of violence, sometimes aging, sometimes a combination of several causes, but always bringing us to the point of finding a way to say goodbye.

It is rare to have the opportunity to bid farewell while the recipient of the blessing is aware of our comment. In the course of nature’s way, we find ourselves with a painful hole in our emotions where a dear person once dwelt. A few decades ago my father told me one of the worst things about growing older was seeing the circle of friends shrink as the years passed. I have observed the truth of this observation, and along the way have developed an understanding of why so many senior citizens seem to carry a burden of sadness; a burden shadowing their smiles and laughter. We enter the world to be greeted by the warmth and love of our mother and father, but we leave the world alone, venturing into the unknown on our own.

The belief in a life after death is a common thread in human history, regardless of race, religion, or creed. While each of us has our own reasons for believing or not believing, the hope that something good awaits us can be a comfort when we are saying goodbye to someone dear to us. My father is 96 years old and in failing health. I remember when he came home from the Korean War with a medical discharge, and a prognosis of 6 months to live. Obviously he proved the doctors wrong, and survived kidney disease (one removed), heart disease (multiple bypass), and a few more additional scrapes to live a full life of hunting, fishing, and working as a detective. He has led an active life, including acting as care giver to my mother as she spent almost two decades sinking beneath the sad tides of Alzheimer’s until she at last surrendered.

It is difficult to see the slow decline as my father has lost the use of his hands, his sight, and his ability to walk. It is painful to see him unable to take care of himself, yet unable to find his way to that final slumber he prays for each day. A long productive life is a blessing beyond measure, but a long life which offers only pain and suffering, both physical and emotional, is heart wrenching. I grew up in the knowledge that my father might not be there at any time; prepared to scatter his ashes over the land and water he loved. Our paths have separated us for most of my adult life, my careers taking me on my own journey, making our time together limited to a few days each year, and each of those visits ending in tears for us both, knowing it might be our last parting. I have said goodbye many times, but I know how much it will hurt when my brother, who is caring for my father, calls to tell me he has begun his journey into the unknown that awaits us all.

As I plan my next visit, I can’t help wondering if it will be our last; wondering if he will still be there when I arrive. It weighs heavy on my heart, even after a lifetime of preparation; one more member of my circle of friends who will no longer be with me when I say my last goodbye to him.

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The Dance

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Death is our most constant companion, accompanying us from the moment we enter the world until we ultimately surrender to its final embrace.  We challenge it, we tease it, avoid it, we test it, and dance with it every day.  Along the path of our survival we gather experiences, education, and the scars that prove we have been there, dancing with our shadowy partner.

Adrenaline being my personal drug of choice, I have held hands and danced close with my grim partner many times and bear the scars of my close encounters.  I have memories to cherish, stories to tell, and cold shivers to remind me of my escapes from serious injury, massive heart attack, and perhaps the scariest, a personal brush with and survival of cancer.

It is good to survive, to wear the battle scars you can show off, but the worst scars are the ones inflicted by the precious souls in your life who have failed to survive.  Cancer has robbed me of the presence in my life of a growing number of friends, family, and life partners.  It seems every passing year increases the count of those who completed the final fateful dance with this dread disease.

As we age, it is expected that the circle of friends and family will shrink with the passing of time and events, but the inevitability does little to soften the emotional impact of the losses.  It is important to never lose sight of the importance of the people who support us in time of need and to remember to be present when they need you to provide emotional support.  While there is nothing you can say or do to change the absence in their lives, by simply being present, a shoulder to lean on, someone who will answer when they call at an inopportune time, someone who will show up when called is the greatest gift you can provide.

Being a friend is an expression of pure love, a commodity we all need as we daily dance with our constant companion.

A Sad Passing and Hope for the Future

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Death is our most constant companion. From the moment of birth we fence with it, challenge it, avoid it, push it away, but ultimately surrender to it’s irresistible force. In Greek mythology the three Fates were responsible for the length of life. Clotho, who spins the thread of life; Lachesis, who determines how long one lives, by measuring the thread of life; and Atropos, the inevitable, who chooses when someone dies by cutting the thread of life with her shears. The ancients believed that when your predetermined time ran out your life would end, regardless the cause or circumstance. Hence the root of our word fatal.

Through the years I’ve been impacted by the death of family, friends, acquaintances, respected leaders, businesses and industries. Being fired, downsized, divorced, widowed or orphaned are all painful experiences, but when an industry dies the ripple effect is much greater. America’s rust belt is evidence of the effects of once powerful industries being shuttered, towns and cities falling from economic strength into the depths of poverty, employees abandoning their homes to seek their fortunes and futures elsewhere and small businesses closing their doors as their patrons depart.

In a large environment connected with highways, moving to a new location can be accomplished with relative ease, but consider the effects of a major industry closing operation on a small island in a remote archipelago. Such is the immediate future facing the people of Maui. The production of sugar in Hawaii is now a part of history. Visitors arriving have been greeted for more than one hundred years by thousands of acres of sugar cane waving aloha in the trade winds. Thirty three thousand acres are now about to become fallow ground and more than seven hundred and fifty families are staring at being jobless. The economic ripples on Maui threaten to rival a tsunami, and the effects don’t end here, but reach to California where the output of the Puunene mill is refined at Crockett.

Maui is a small community which has survived economic change in the past and will discover how to survive this death as well. In the past twenty-five years the Pioneer Sugar Mill and it’s thousands of acres of cane have disappeared from Lahaina, the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar (C & H Sugar) mill at Paia has been dismantled and sold, and now the last vestige of the industry that built modern Hawaii is being dismantled. It is sad to see an iconic landmark fade away, but HC&S has been planning for the final harvest for several years. New crops will be planted, new products will enter the local market place, and new employment opportunities will grow as well, but the time required to establish these new ventures will be painful for many Maui residents. Tourism will continue to carry the majority of our economy, with visitors arriving daily to bask in our tropical climate and enjoy the beauty of our island.

In time they will also witness the rebirth of the lands that have sweetened our lives for more than one hundred years.