Saying goodbye is always toughest when it’s the last goodbye. Even so, it’s harder when we don’t get to say those words for a final time. I think that’s why I admire what my dad’s army buddy did.
Dad and Tom have an on-again off-again relationship. That isn’t to say that they don’t get along at times, it’s just that they live in different states and they come from the pre-digital era. Ever since they returned from Korea, where they served the first few years after the armistice was signed, they have kept in touch via Christmas cards and the like.
Saying goodbye to Korea for the last time, was quite sentimental for those two friends-for-life.
Once every decade or so, Tom would take a trip to Utah and visit with Dad for a few days. Fifteen years ago, when they both had better health, they spent the better part of a week together. They roamed the streets of Seoul, marveling at the recovery Korea has made since a time when the whole country looked like a set from M*A*S*H*. It was fun to watch them trying to speak the mixture of Korean, English, and Japanese that they used to communicate with locals in the early 1960s. Of course, no one understands that pigeon language anymore. “Why don’t you just speak English?” the Koreans kept asking them. Saying goodbye to Korea for the last time, was quite sentimental for those two friends-for-life. Saying goodbye to each other at the end of that trip was no big deal. They had their health. They’d see each other again. They acted like twenty-year-old kids.
I think that was the last time they saw each other; that is, until last week. My dad experienced a stroke about five years ago that left the right side of his body nearly useless. His speech comes labored, now, and his thoughts don’t process at the rate they once did. Tom was also showing signs of age. A year ago he experienced his own close call with a heart attack. When one of Tom’s other friends in another Western state started to experience severe health issues, my dad’s buddy decided to see an opportunity rather than doom and gloom. It was time to make sure there were no regrets. It was time to start saying goodbye.
A couple of weeks ago Tom loaded up his sports car and mapped out a three week itinerary with stops along the way with each close friend he had acquired over the years. Dad was more than a little disappointed because he wanted to take Tom fishing on his pontoon boat, but the weather didn’t cooperate. We ended up spending a day at a local aircraft museum. Dad and Tom showed two of my sons and me Jeeps and helicopters like they had seen in Korea. Tom even showed my family members some of the aircraft that he had learned to jump from in paratrooper training.
His last day in Utah he spent alone, with my dad and mom, watching old T.V. shows, sitting around and doing nothing special. After dinner, together with my family, Tom left with my parents and the specific intent of saying goodbye. I don’t know what he and my father talked about. While they have lots in common, their beliefs are different. My dad is of a Christian faith and Tom is atheist, though they have always respected each other. Dad quit trying to convert Tom long ago, though he would have loved to see his friend’s beliefs change.
I thanked Tom for being such a good friend to my dad over the years and for making time for saying goodbye.
Though I wasn’t invited to witness the last goodbye, I am sure that each knew they could have talked about religion and faith had either wanted to. But that wasn’t the point of the time that Tom had set aside. This was a time for saying goodbye.
I had a few minutes with my dad’s buddy, alone, as he left the next morning. I thanked Tom for being such a good friend to my dad and our family over the years and for making time for saying goodbye. I told him how much I admired him for taking such a trip, refusing to ignore the inevitable, while making sure that his best friends never had to doubt his feelings for them.
Tom downplayed his actions, shook my hand, got into his car and drove away after teaching me and my family one of the greatest lessons we have ever learned. There is a time for everything. When it comes time for saying goodbye, carpe diem! Seize the day!
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