Thursday, August 6, 2009

Learning to Say Goodbye

Funerals remind us of death and the power of life, and the fact that we cannot solve physical death (though we have found a way to solve spiritual death). Funerals bring us to the reality of life; that we all die eventually having lived, more or less, a full life.

When we attend a funeral we discover that the person won’t be coming back, and that can be incredibly hard for us to comprehend; how can it be that they won’t be back?--what, not even for a visit? Death is unfathomable, yet it’s commonplace to our overall human experience. We only need to visit a cemetery to get that message.

Recently my family and I attended the funeral of someone who was very special. This person, like all others who die, leaves behind a swag of loving family and acquaintances and memories. Life cannot possibly be the same without them.

With this tinge of sadness, I am reminded of the Madonna song, The Power of Goodbye, which is appropriately chilling in its demeanour. It describes the finality of goodbye... the no-coming-back of goodbye. Toward the end of the song, at its climax, Madonna sings in a slower, more profound and compelling tempo. She sings, ‘Learn... to... say... good... bye...; I yearn... to... say... good... bye,’ before a hugely reflective instrumental piece takes our imaginations hauntingly away. It’s so profoundly sad it moves the heart in captivated, sorrowful, reflective wonder.

The experience of death takes us there. Only recently, my wife and I watched Ghost (1990) again. This movie holds special memories for me since it first came out. It never ceases to move my heart. This movie stylises death, heaven and hell somewhat, but it resonates with our hearts. It aligns with the typical worldly preconceptions on the topics.

For instance, when Sam (Patrick Swayze) re-acquaints briefly with Carl (his best friend who deceived him which led to his death) on ‘the other side,’ we can see the sadness in Sam that he knows where Carl’s headed--in the movie, bad deeds equal hell. Even though he was deceived and hated Carl for it, Sam’s attitude is changed in an instant when Carl dies. Death changes things in dramatic and surprising ways, and even our perceptions are transformed unpredictably at times.

I don’t know why, but I am simply awed by death. Not preoccupied; not dazzled; not ambitious about it. Just simply, the power of life brings a special significance to physical death.

And of course, there’s good-bye. It’s a good bye, or supposed to be. Perhaps good bye means final recognition of goneness? Perhaps it’s the end of the grieving process, or maybe just the beginning--and any point in between for that matter. Good-bye is symbolic, essential; final.

Gone. No more. Nothingness. Goodbye seems so final. It seems so intangible. Like love, light and life, death is an utter mystery.

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