Tender Emotions are Good Teachers

Grandma, Isaac


In the last six months, I have had to say two kinds of very significant goodbyes. One was with my 18 year-old son (featured on the right in the above photo), departing for two years of service in a faith community. It is two years in which 99% of my communication with him will be by email. That’s quite a shift. Saying that final goodbye with that final hug was a time of very raw and tender emotion. That’s my boy. On his way to becoming man in many ways, both through the direct experience he would have and through his physical age. Learning to live on his own. Being committed to service.

The other significant goodbye was with my Grandmother dying this week (on the left above). She was 95, departing for good from this body that has held her, yet was breaking down. This goodbye too, was very raw and tender. That’s the Grandma that held me up physically, and in other ways, many times in my life. She cheered for me. She claimed me.

In both of these goodbyes, I noticed that they were particularly ripe times to say what needs to be said. I was thoughtful, noticing words and phrases and wishes coming to me. I was hoping I would be able to say the right words to create closure for my son, for my Grandma, for me, and for our relationship. “Grandma, thank you for your life. I will remember you. Go find Grandpa (who had died 10 months previously).” Or, “When you are ready, you can go. I’m proud of you. You have done well. Nothing more to do here.”

In both of these goodbyes, I noticed that whatever I choose to say to my son and to my Grandma were really good things to hear as if being spoken to myself and about myself. I’m not talking about thinking it that way — “hmm, what are the words I want to hear?” Rather, just noticing that in the rawness with these two people I love dearly are really keen reminders that are really applicable to myself, important to hear, provide direction, or just offer courage and kindness.

  • “Thank you for your life.” — Remember gratitude. There are people who are changed because of me. In specific relationship, yes, but also, just through my being.
  • “I will remember you.” — Others remember me. How do I remember people? Do I take the time to notice something about them? Do I share a gratitude? Am I deliberate about it?
  • “Go find Grandpa.” — When I shared with my 18 year-old son that his Great Grandmother was passing, I suggested he watch for her, that he might find some help through her. I don’t really know if that is true. It is a comforting thought though, right. The encouragement is to remember that we are not alone. No, not alone.
  • “When you are ready, you can go.” — Ahhh, isn’t it important to remember that we have choice. Maybe not everywhere. Maybe not in death, though I have often felt that death is for many, a choice. To remember that in the vigil I was holding with Grandma, it wasn’t really about me. I would have willed her to die so as to ease her suffering. Perhaps to ease my suffering in watching her suffer. But it wasn’t about my timing. It was about hers. How much would it change how we work and be together if we remembered, even honored, that we don’t control timing of all things.
  • “I’m proud of you.” — Lend courage. Oh, how good it feels to have people lend us their courage from time to time, doesn’t it. To mark us. To claim us. To be noticed. Not through an ulterior motive. Just through description and witnessing.

I love both of these humans. Deeply. Our partings influence me very much. Somehow, I can feel my voice echoing back through them to me. Raw, tender emotions are rather good teachers and companions, aren’t they.

2 Replies to “Tender Emotions are Good Teachers”

  1. Yes they are. The best love songs are the sad ones, the ones with longing.

    I lost a friend today too, not as close as your grandma, but feeling the resonance with you my dear dear friend.

    1. Good to be in it with you Chris. It’s been a good decade and more now of noting these resonances and sharing with each other, hasn’t it.

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