Weekly writing challenge: Saying Goodbye

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When I saw this week’s writing challenge from The Daily Post, I planned to write a fun story about the characters in the photo prompt. But then I thought about the wider theme I interpreted in the picture: saying farewell.

The people in the photo could be greeting each other, I suppose, but to me it looks like they are saying goodbye. So, instead of the fiction I intended to write, this real-life story about a difficult departure spilled out onto the page. I don’t often blog about my life and this is the most personal post I have written so far.

It was a rainy morning a few days before Christmas Day, the roads slick with water, when I drove to the hospital to say goodbye to my mother.

The phone call had come late at night. The life-saving surgery would most likely go ahead the next morning. I went to bed at midnight, wondering how on earth I was going to sleep but managing to get a few hours of rest before my alarm buzzed at 4 am.

Driving to the hospital was surreal. I put the radio on – I always drive with the radio on – but on that morning, I wasn’t listening. I fiddled with the dial, tuning it in to the news. The calm tones of the newsreader, the swish of my windscreen wipers and the lights of passing cars all melted into an unreal blur as I focused on getting to the hospital in time to say goodbye.

Hospital corridors are lonely places at night and in the early hours of the morning, when no one is around and the air is silent. I walked through the white hallways and when I arrived at the hospital department where my mother was a patient, there was a scurry of activity. It was 5.30 in the morning and the lights were dimmed, allowing the other patients to sleep. But it felt, in a strange way, like Christmas morning. The same sense of excitement and anticipation was there, only unlike Christmas, tainted with anxiety. The nurses who had become familiar faces over the past two months were busy prepping my mother for surgery, pulling on the stockings to prevent thrombosis and helping her into a hospital gown.

When the porter came to get her, I walked down to the operating theatre with them. I wanted the porter to walk more slowly, to delay the inevitable moment when I would have to say goodbye, drive back and wait for the clock to tick away the hours. But it was only a short walk to the theatre, in the elevator, then down the white corridors as I tried to control myself while my throat tightened and my heart rate increased with anxiety.

I was painfully aware of the risks of the surgery she was about to undergo. I knew it was one of the biggest operations that surgeons can do. I knew the medical terminology and the statistics the doctors used. I also knew I was inevitably going to get choked up when the time came to say goodbye. Absurdly, a line from a popular book I recently read floated through my head and I latched on to it, attempting to think about something else to stop myself from thinking about the outcome I didn’t want to think about.

The words I was going to say got tied up in knots in my head. Sometimes words are inadequate. What do you say to someone you love who is about to be taken into theatre for major surgery? What do you say? “Don’t worry”, “It will be fine”, “Everything works out for the best”? All those phrases we use to reassure ourselves sometimes even when we know it won’t be fine. In the end there is nothing you can say but “I love you”.

201 thoughts on “Weekly writing challenge: Saying Goodbye

  1. Grace thank you for sharing this with us. I too remember a time of saying goodbye this to my husband of 41 years. Words are inadequate but your mother knew you loved her. I trust that she came out of the operation and lived for many more years.


  2. Glad to hear of your mom’s recovery. Your story was good, not pretentious and overdone but it appeared honest. I like how you left us to think… to want more., but after all it was about the goodbye. Good story telling.


    • Thank you. 🙂

      Well, I originally planned to write a fictional story involving Italy, because the photo reminds me of Italy, and a couple. But I was reading down The Daily Post writing challenge and they suggested that the photo could represent a theme, e.g. happy reunions or a difficult departure. The words, “difficult departure”, struck home with me and so I wrote this.


  3. My last words to my mom before I left for the three hour trip home (where I would spend a sleepless night of waking up screaming every ten minutes) was “See ya tomorrow, Mom, after my work is done.’ She understood… It was a phrase we often used…It meant, I’ll see you in heaven when my work here is through. I could tell by the look on her face that she understood that I understood she wouldn’t be there when I came back and that it was okay to go home. ahhh, hell, those damn tears….


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  5. Dear Grace: I knew the feeling well. Unfortunately, my fear came through. I remembered those awful moments when I was told by my father’s Doctor. He was gone. My body all shook up; uncontrollable, violently like a lifeless leave in a strong wind. We all know it, from the moment we were able to realize. Our circle of life has the beginning and the end. We celebrate both of the occasions, the joy and sadness, ironically, through tears . The strength of deliberations offers the same emotional effect, the same sensational feeling that exuberant our minds, or the cold chill running wild in our thoughts. I guessed love have made me selfish thus I want that forever lasting for my parents. As a mom, I keep this thought in mind. I live as best as I can to full fill obligations of a mom and to procrastinate the emotional down turn caused by the inevitable loss for my children. Have a pleasant weekend Grace. God bless.


  6. Thank you so much for sharing this very personal and painful memory with us. Goodbyes are always hard, even if just for a short while. I remember when i was to get an operation and my mom was about to say good bye to me at the end of the long corridor, i was more concerned for her than scared of what might happen in that operating room. The way she looked at me just broke my heart, and like you all she said was i love you, and as i said it back i couldnt help but choke up a bit, yet i didnt cry because i wanted to be strong for her, like she was for me. Im also glad your mum’s operation went with out a hitch. 🙂


  7. Yes sometimes all we can say is “I Love You” and it is enough. It was good to know that the surgery went well and your mother is recovering. I wish her more strength to recuperate and live a wonderful life ahead.
    Great post and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!


  8. Grace, you are right about choosing appropriate words when saying goodbye, possibly for the last time. Some words are so trite; however, you can never lose with “I love you” which I find I never say enough to the people I truly love.

    I had a similar situation with my partner. Unfortunately, he had a terrible accident and was in a coma. I did not have time to say “I love you” before he died and then I started thinking that I had not said it to him enough times while he was alive. We should never underestimate these three words.


    • Yes, I was so aware that it could have been a very tragic day. 2 out of 10 people don’t get through the surgery my mother had and it was so difficult trying to push that out of my mind.

      I’m sorry for the loss of your partner. I think that no matter how much we do, we will always think we should or could have done more. Take care. Thanks for reading.


  9. Lovely post, Grace. Something with which we can all identify. So glad you still have your mom. Treasure the days that you have with her. I lost mine six years ago and still miss her – but the memories are happy ones.


    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s so great to get feedback. 🙂

      This whole experience has changed the lives of my mother and me. I was her caregiver during 2012 – the year she was ill. It was a long, painful, sometimes infuriating year but it’s given me a lot of life experience, more than many college students of my age have, and changed my perspective.

      I’m sorry to hear about your mom but I’m glad you have happy memories.


  10. This is one of those moments I always think about. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I know there will come a time…. I’ve said goodbyes to people before with the assumption I would see them again, only to have those be my last words to them. Very touching, and keep up the writing 😉


    • Yes, one of my mother’s friends recently said we must always think about what we say to people when we say goodbye (and not to part on an argument) because we might never see them again.

      Thank you for your comment. This type of writing is a departure from the norm for me but it felt good. 🙂


  11. It’s interesting the picture resulted in you making a personal post. I am very glad you did as I really enjoyed reading it, very moving and I could relate. Happy to read your Mother made a recovery, best wishes to you both.


  12. well written and glad your mom is recovering well..A goodbye or a welcome the emotions are always there though the latter is more joyous !!!


  13. You wrote this very well…I’ve read the comments and see I’m not alone in looking back at saying goodbye for the last time. When it’s your Mom, you never forget exactly how it all went…I’m glad in your case, she is recovering and back home now. Praise God–enjoy every moment and keep writing. Also, the pic reminds me of Italy as well, and definitely looks like goodbye, not hello 😉


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    • Thank you for the compliment. I wrote it with very little editing. Usually I write a post, set it aside for a while and then go back to edit it. But with this one, it just flowed. If only writing could be that easy all the time!


  16. Saying goodbye *is* hard. Sometimes I get annoyed by parting lovers at the airport, but then I realize it’s a good thing they are the way they are. Hospital scenes are hard, too… I’ve been a patient in the ICU. Almost didn’t survived. The thought of saying goodbye for forever is the hardest thought of all.

    Well-written. Congrats on being “pressed.” 🙂


  17. This is so true! Those three words are the most important! You can say everything’s going to be okay but that’s never promised, but the love you have for them is the one thing you know for a fact is true<3


  18. This reminds me of the movie Homeward Bound, when Shadow falls into the pit and Chance goes down to save him and Shadow tells him to leave and says, “You’ve learned all you need to know Chance. Now all you have to learn is how to say good bye.” I don’t know if it’s ever something we really ever learn how to do. Or at least do well. Some days I don’t think we are wired to know how to say good bye. This was very nice and I enjoyed reading it (and I mean that in a totally not morbid way).


  19. i find it touching. it’s so true about the hospital thing. we do our best to comfort the patient, e.g. you own friend or fam member, even if what we know it’s not always true, like everything’s allright or so. sometimes it feels like lying. and saying i love you to your family could probably the most honest word to say to comfort others…


  20. Grace, you’ve touched my heart. It does all boil down to love, doesn’t it? But I find that, in unimaginably wrenching, almost surreal moments such as those, sometimes the right thing to say is.. nothing at all. The eyes too speak volumes. Glad to know your mom pulled through and is recovering. Wishing you healthy years ahead. Lovely writing 😉


    • Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed my post.

      There is a beautifully written poem called “Spared” by an author called Wendy Cope, which she wrote about the tragedy of 9/11:

      “For now, how well I understand
      That love is all, is all there is”

      Those lines from the end of the poem sum it all up. Thank you for reading. 🙂


    • Thank you for reading. I’m sorry about your loved one. Goodbyes are tough.

      I wasn’t really thinking about writing techniques when I wrote this but I guess that suspense is always a good one to keep readers on their toes, whether it is fiction or non-fiction!


  21. Thank you for the message that stands out… Never, never, ever, pass up the opportunity to kiss the one you Love.
    I was scanning very old slides to digital this weekend. Taking the time to put long forgotten ones up on the flatscreen, I would pause and say, ” how long has it been since “they” have been gone?” In the travels to far away places, where maybe a card is sent once a year to say Hi, the knowledge of pending sad news upon a future visit that a loss occured, with third hand news, “oh, they are gone”, is frightening. The fondest memories from my old slides brought a joy to the day.
    http://sunkist2.wordpress.com ~ Ron


  22. Thanks for sharing. This post is wonderful. I couldn’t agree more with you that instead of thinking for the worst, we have to think for the positive outcome. Saying “I love you” to your mom made her recovered!


  23. Hi Grace, i am relatively new to wordpress and was delighted when i stumbled across your page. Beautiful writing and from reading the comments i hear you Mum recovered well which is good news. I hope you dont mind a new follower and someone who has just started on the road of showing others their writing! xx


  24. Dear Grace,

    This is a beautifully written post.
    Thank you for sharing it.
    I am sure that it will bring strength to many in similar situations – whatever the outcome.
    Best wishes to you and your mother –



    • Hi Emma, thanks for your lovely comment. 🙂
      I am overwhelmed by the moving comments people have left on this post. If sharing my personal experience gives support to anyone going through something similar, I would be very touched.


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    • I was quite nervous about what to say when the time came to say goodbye at the doors of the operating suite. I knew that the story might not have a happy ending and I wanted to say something meaningful. But no words mean more than “I love you” when it is said sincerely.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂


  26. Hi Grace,

    Your post pulled me in with its topic of saying goodbye, as I was talking about this very thing with a friend not too long ago.
    He said something that stuck with me: “The reality is, all good things come to an end, but almost paradoxically there is this undeniably unique concentration of love that comes with goodbyes.”
    All too often, we focus on all the negativity and sadness associated with goodbyes, when we should really be focusing on all of the love that is tied into them. Right?

    I just wanted to share that quote with you and also let you know I really enjoyed your piece. Very simply but beautifully put.



    • Thank you for reading!
      Your friend sounds very wise. Thanks for sharing his words. Yes, “love is all, is all there is” (a line from Wendy Cope’s poem, Spared, which she wrote about 9/11) and it’s good to focus on that with goodbyes. 🙂


  27. Oh god, this made my eyes water. I am terrified of my parents dying. At some point I became aware of their mortality and it has been a worry ever since. I know it is going to happen some time, I just hope it won’t happen for a long, long time. I’m not always the best daughter I could be, I suppose, but having lost my grandmother a day ago, I became aware of their mortality even more. I’m really going to try to love them the hardest I can. I want to make sure that they feel it.


    • Sadly, it is inevitable that the majority of us will go through the grief of the loss of a parent/parents. It is part of the natural rhythm of life. That doesn’t make it any easier though! But try not to worry too much about losing your parents and, instead, value the time you have with them without being anxious about the future. I understand where you’re coming from because I used to get very anxious about something happening to my mother.

      I’m really sorry to hear about your grandmother.

      “I want to make sure that they feel it” – Sometimes a simple “I love you” is all that is needed.
      Thank you for reading and leaving a comment. Take care!


  28. Hi! you were such a darling by saying ‘i love you’ to a person having a surgery. you may never know how much it could mean to that person but definitely it would help someone to be stronger. 🙂


  29. This is just beautiful! I know what the walk is like and it is hard for everyone who makes that journey. I am another one who always listens to music in the car but when I am in stressful situations like that it is either turned down really low or its just turned off. Thanks so much for sharing, I really enjoyed it 🙂


  30. I couldn’t say ‘Goodbye’ on the day my dad passed away 8 years ago (I lives separately from my parents for Study issue).
    but, I did say: “Thank you & I Love you” in front of his ‘death body’ soon when I arrived home a day after. 🙂

    Thanks for Sharing.


  31. My mother in law had been in hospice for a few weeks. She had terminal cancer. Her days were a roller-coaster ride of good ones and bad. On one of the good days, my wife and I thought, she wanted us to take her outside into the gazebo. She even left her oxygen back in the room — we were ecstatic.

    Her reason to go outside was not apparent until we got to the gazebo and had maneuvered her wheelchair to the view she wanted. That’s when she took out a cigarette and a lighter from under her gown and lit up — we were appalled.

    But, then, the unusual happened: she snuffed out the cigarette after only one drag on it. She said, “Not even that tastes good anymore.” We, all three of us, knew what that meant: she was dead inside of 48 hours after that.

    I did, however, get to say my goodbye. I told her I would care for her daughter; that she didn’t have to worry about her. She placed her hands on either side of my face, looked straight at me and said, “I know that.” She and I understood it would be the last time we would see each other in the flesh.

    Then she added, “It’s not a good way to go,” meaning the smoking, which she had refused to give up until it no longer tasted good.


  32. you said the right words in the end. as a doctor i sometimes wonder about the other side of my profession, the side they never teach us about. they never teach us about dealing with compassion. we learn this as we go. you are compassion and i am grateful to have read your blog. thank you


    • It’s interesting to hear a doctor’s point of view. I never really thought about that before but I can imagine that it must be difficult to balance the medical/scientific focus with the compassion that is necessary to deal with ill people and their loved ones. My mother had many different experiences with doctors and the medical profession during the time she was ill. Some were fantastic but others were clearly very much lacking in compassion.

      Thanks for your comment. 🙂


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