This Is Not Goodbye…

by Susan Pogorzelski on October 3, 2010 · 18 comments

Help me tell the truth you see
that’s all I’m trying to do is
tell the truth
it’s just in my head

all I’ve left unsaid…
I have seen the final curtain fall…

Over The Rhine, “This Is Not Goodbye”

Loss was never something I’d ever really experienced growing up, though the knowledge of it was always there, hovering in the back of my mind like some kind of phantom, dispensing fear into my heart and whispering its inevitability. The rational side of me knew that it was a part of life, that everything is cyclical, but the older I got, the more that fear seemed to grow.

I knew what was coming; I knew it was only a matter of time, and so, soon, Time itself seemed to become my greatest enemy. I didn’t want to grow up, wanting, instead, to remain locked in a time of childhood innocence and fairytale narratives.

Growing up meant no more guarantee of happily ever afters; growing up meant change, and change meant I’d have to acknowledge that life was moving forward.

And if life was moving forward, then it meant that what had always seemed merely a concept might one day become a reality.

Growing up, goodbye had always meant goodbye for now, I’ll see you later, I’ll be back soon..

Until the day I learned that goodbye sometimes means forever.

They sat us down to tell us that she was too sick, too frail and that they didn’t want to see her suffer anymore, that she had lived a full life and she didn’t deserve that pain. They said that she would be chasing her tennis balls, running fast through tall blades of grass with other friends, that she wouldn’t be alone…

I was too young; I wasn’t allowed to go with my dad to take my early childhood dog to the vet, but standing on the cement step that led to the garage, looking at the empty driveway from where they had just pulled away, remembering the sadness and tears in my dad’s eyes — the first time I had ever seen him cry — I vowed to myself that I would do whatever I could to ease the pain of the people I loved.

It was then that I made up my young mind that no one — neither human or animal — should ever have to be alone.

It was the first time I began to understand the concept of permanence.

It was the first time I feared the thought of saying goodbye again.

Time passed, and slowly a previously unnamed, irrational fear began to grow, manifesting itself into an anxiety disorder from which I couldn‘t escape, afraid to leave the comfort of the people and place in which I felt safe. Afraid to leave home.

Afraid for them to leave me.

I wanted to keep them safe and happy, wrapped in an invisible, protective cocoon in which pain and hurt and loss didn‘t exist and could never touch them. I wanted to absorb the illnesses, the sadness, the hurt, the despair of everyone I loved just so that they wouldn’t have to experience it, not once understanding in all my naiveté how much a part of life all of it really is. I thought — I can handle it, I can take it. But they shouldn’t have to, and I foolishly, childishly, egotistically, managed to convince myself that as long as I was there, they never would.

I was afraid.

I was seventeen years old and on my way to school, my hands gripping the steering wheel as I made the right-hand turn I had made thousands upon thousand of times before. Unwelcome thoughts began to weave their way through my mind, spiraling until they reached that one thought: I had to go home. My chest grew heavy; tears stung my eyes. Dread filled up my heart with every passing moment, and I couldn’t focus on anything else but the place I had just left; I turned the car around a mile from the school, waking my mom up as I collapsed in tears into her arms.

I was afraid.

It was early, still dark outside, the alarm clock saying that it was too early for me to even think about being awake. But I could hear my dad getting ready for work down the hall. I tried taking deeper breaths, tried counting, tried thinking of anything else, but the feeling was too familiar. I walked down the hall to my parents’ room where my dad was pulling on his tie. He kissed my mom, said goodbye to me. I tried telling myself to just let him go to work, nothing would happen. I tried telling myself I was seventeen years old, too old for such silly fears. But as he headed towards the door, I burst into tears, begging him not to go, not to leave.

I was afraid.

I could hear my teacher’s voice, but the word weren’t connecting; I could see the print in front of me, but they were a blur through the sting of hot tears that threatened to spill to the page. Silently, having already discussed my anxiety with the school, I exited the classroom and walked out the front doors where I sat on a bench in the courtyard, where I breathed in the fresh air and allowed the tears to fall freely. I could feel the anxiety ebbing with each breath, the desperation and dread retreating as I wiped away the tears, repeating, “I’m ok. They’re ok. I’m here, and I’m ok.”

I was eighteen. I was afraid.

It was all ok.

After graduation, the anxiety attacks seemed fewer and far between as I began to realize that I couldn’t control Time anymore than I could control anyone else’s life — or the hurt and pain that might accompany it. All I could do was be there when they needed it.

All I could do was love them…And let go.

It was with that thought that I faced what I had always feared.

I’ve tried going into detail in this post, but the pain is somehow still too fresh, even after all these years, and it’s just not something I can write about again…At least, not in a public forum, not right now. The losses of my grandmother, my grandfather, and my three beloved dogs in succession has been the greatest heartache I’ve ever had to face, and I miss them every single day.

I lost my faith, I lost myself, and little by little, those old fears began to return. I couldn’t bear to lose anyone else I loved, but I imagined what else was coming, what seemed unavoidable to any life. And little by little, I felt myself begin to retreat again, to give into that fear.

Only, this time, I wouldn’t allow it.

These past few years have been both the hardest and rewarding of my life thus far for all that I’d experienced and all I had learned. As I’ve attempted to heal, I’ve realized that as much as I miss them, I have been blessed with the opportunity to have loved each and every one of them, to have been able to tell them this…

To have been able to say goodbye.

There are times, like tonight, that the scars reveal themselves and those old emotions return like a familiar friend. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be able to escape this fear, or if I just have to push through it, as I did when I went away to college, as I did when I went away to France, as I did so recently when I bought this house and left home for good.

But then I realize that while I may not be able to escape it, I can try to understand it, I can accept it. And I don’t have to live my life in its shadow. Life is far too precious for that, anyway.

Time, I have realized, can be an enemy to the weak or a gift to the strong — and while tonight I feel weak, I know that there’s a strength in realizing that every single moment you have with the people you love is a gift, and to fear what might come is to negate the value of that gift.

To find peace in loss, to forgive yourself, to hope, to love, to remember…

To live.

To let go.

To say goodbye…

I used to think that goodbye meant goodbye for now, see you later, I’ll be back soon…

Until the day I began to fear that goodbye meant forever.

Until I realized that goodbye still means goodbye, for now…

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Brenda Boitson October 3, 2010

Sometimes I forget that OTHERS know loss. Thanks for sharing, and especially, thanks for that re-affirming closing statement.


Susan Pogorzelski October 4, 2010

Brenda — thank you for writing the post that you did, but furthermore, thank you for being such a source of inspiration yourself. As loss is so deeply personal, the emotions are so raw and all-encompassing, it’s easy to forget that grief is a shared experience, that it’s actually, sadly, what unites us.

I want to encourage everyone to read your post and your blog. I really do believe that the more we talk about it, the more awareness we bring, the less alone and isolated we can feel.

Your strength and courage is something I admire — my thoughts go out to you, always.


Bryan October 4, 2010

Beautifully written, as always, Susan!


Susan Pogorzelski October 4, 2010

Thank you, Bryan! And thank you for your courage as well in writing your most recent post. I know, clearly, that these posts of high emotion and honesty are never easy, but I think that’s also what helps us to heal and to grow. So thanks to you…


John October 4, 2010

Hey Susan,

Great post.

I really feel you should read Judith Viorst’s great book “Necessary Losses,” if you haven’t already. I read it after my Dad died and it really helped me a lot, especially because she uses so many great literary quotes to back up what she writes about even though she’s a therapist.

Keep it up!


Susan Pogorzelski October 4, 2010

John: Thanks so much for replying and for the book recommendations — both here and on your great site — I have a feeling they’ll both do some good, and I look forward to reading them. Somehow, I think this healing and reconciliation is much more of a journey than I anticipated. I wonder if it isn’t always that…

Anyway — thanks once again for the comment here, but most especially for the motivation and encouragement in the emails – – I’m so glad to be back in touch with you and Kerry and wish you both the very best!


Sarah October 4, 2010

Stop giving me these overwhelming urges to hug you forever. Because I always feel like I have to hug you a million times after I read your posts. You’re so amazing. And courageous. And that’s why you’re my friend.


Susan Pogorzelski October 4, 2010

Sarah: I thought you were my friend because I gave you My Little Ponies as birthday presents… 🙂 I love you. It’s been a few years, and sometimes it’s still so hard, and yet you still are here, offering hugs, offering support, and being a friend. And for those three things alone, I couldn’t thank you enough. I’m very, very lucky to have you in my life. For the record.


WornBalletShoe October 6, 2010

Susan, you have this amazing way of speaking from your heart, and to the heart… learning, hurting, and healing. And I think the best part of it is you reminded us that everyone goes through these things… and it’s so easy to forget that and allow ourselves to think about how alone we are in grief or mourning.


Audrey1119 March 10, 2011

I don’t remember ever being more touched by something I read online. By something that’s written in “my words”. Something that I feel but never dare to explore as deep as you did, because I know that at some point it takes you in too much and that it gets awfully hard to get out.
I was 16 when my granfather was diagnosed with cancer. He suffered like no man should, and died year later. We witnessed his pain every day. I felt relief because his suffering was too big to be carried any longer and in alot of ways I knew he was prepared. I was ok with him dying, but I was not ok with God who let him suffer. I don’t think I still am and it was almost 5 years ago. But I know that God never gives us cross that we can’t bare and my grandfather was a brave man. In a way I “got over” it.

A year later just when we all started to heal from previous loss, I almost lost my mum in one of those stupid accidents that you couldn’t prevent because it wasn’t in your hands, it was in hands of someone else, irresponsible driver I never met and who probably doesn’t know how much pain he caused… she suffered a lot, was in coma, we almost lost her. She is still recovering almost 4 years later. Again I was angry because she suffered.

It took me years to become grateful. When I saw her standing on her legs again, I started being grateful, and it grows. Every once in a while I force myself to say “thank you for the suffering if it meant she’ll stay with us”. But there’s still a doubt, because my grandfather’s suffering was useless, he died in pain.
Maybe it was meant to teach us, who stay behind, how to be brave, how to believe, how to fight, how to be strong, how to love your family. It did. I am proud to have known him. But it still left anger and fear that you wrote about.

My dad travels alot, and every time he goes on a trip I hug him and close my eyes, because you never know what might happen and I want to know that the last thing I did when I saw him was that. It can be morbid or dark, but it’s a coping mechanism. In that moment I say small prayer and… let it go.

What I so often can’t let go is my fear of illness. Of cancer. Of an unannounced hurricane that takes away everything. Peace, life the way you and your family knew it, everything. I am in med school and couldn’t for some time learn about cancers. I didn’t want to know statistics, I didn’t want to know the sympthoms, it only fed my fear and caused paranoia. I am still coping with that.

I try to let it go, with faith, because at the end of it, after all beautiful people who grew into us and we into them are gone, it will be all we have. And it should be enough, because it truly isn’t goodbye forever, only for now…


Susan Pogorzelski March 23, 2011

Audrey: I’m so sorry that I’ve been so neglectful in replying to your beautiful and honest comment, but I’ve been meaning to write and say than you so much for sharing your story.

Some people fear saying the words “I love you.” Some people can’t bring themselves to say, “I’m proud of you.” But for me, the most terrifying word has always been goodbye because I’ve always associated that with permanence. And, despite being uncomfortable with change, the permanence of loss has always been my greatest fear.

I undertand exactly what you mean when you say you were ok with your grandfather’s dying, but not ok with God. With all of these losses, I was at peace with death because I knew that they had all lived good lives — grandparents and animals alike — and that they knew they were loved, knew that they would no longer be suffering. However, while I’m not deeply religious, the anger I felt towards God was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. And I think that only made me feel worse for it.

I can’t tell you how glad I am that your mom was ok — as ok as she could be, while still being here. Still, I undertand the fear that has lingered, renewing itself when you least expect it. Every single time I say goodbye on the phone, every single time I leave someone I care about, I can feel that familiar pang. It’s funny that I’m answering this comment today, of all days, because those feelings are so strong today, of all days.

“Maybe it was meant to teach us, who stay behind, how to be brave, how to believe, how to fight, how to be strong, how to love your family.”

The most beautiful comment I’ve ever received, Audrey. This lesson, itself, is what I hope to always remember. Maybe there’s a reason for it. Maybe it does teach you to be brave and strong and to love.

And maybe it also teaches us to let go.

My heart goes out to you. Thank you again for sharing your story and for truly beautiful words.


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