Saying goodbye

saying goodbye

Saying goodbye is never easy.

Even the times when I thought it would be easy, when I was glad to leave, when I couldn’t wait to walk out the door, I realized later that it hurt, that I had no idea how attached I had become.

I brought our cat to be put down one time.  She had not been my idea.  I resisted her, but as often happens when the kids grow up and leave home and forget that they had begged and pleaded for a tiny kitten, I became her primary care-giver.

She curled up in my lap every morning while I read the newspaper.  I didn’t invite her, but she climbed up anyway.  I also fed her and scooped her litter box.

And so when I brought her to be put down, I thought it would be no big deal.  “Do you want to hold her while we kill her?” They didn’t say that, of course, but that’s what I heard.  “Do you want to hold her while we administer this lethal injection that will render her lifeless in a second or two?”

I held her.

And then I brought her home in an old blanket and buried her in the woods behind our home.  What a lousy job.  No one prepared me for how terrible I would feel for days afterward.  How did I ever become attached to an animal who seemed to sleep for 23 hours a day?

Saying goodbye, I’ve found, is almost always a kind of death.

As excited as I am to begin this new chapter in my life, as excited as I am to realize this dream of living and working abroad,  as sure as I am that God has prepared me for just this moment in my life, I can feel the toll that it’s taking on me.

Someone hugs me after church yesterday, has a really good grip on me, and whispers into my ear, “I’m going to miss you.”  I say, “I’m going to miss you too.”  And it’s true.  I’m going to miss a lot of people.  Some of them I’m going to miss acutely.  How can you not miss a group of people to whom you’ve given just about every waking hour of the day for the last several years?

I looked at my congregation as I stood in the pulpit yesterday, and it was almost more than I could bear.  I don’t know every person well, true, but I know a lot of them.  I’ve officiated at weddings and funerals and baptisms for their family members.  I’ve held their hands in hospital rooms.  I’ve called late at night to ask if they’re okay.  I’ve listened to them tell me things that they haven’t told a single other person in the whole world.

How do you say goodbye to people you have loved from the first time you met them?

I still have two more Sundays.  I’m not sure how it will be possible to stand in front of them two more times.  A week ago I tried humor which, I can report, did not go over very well.  I tried to lighten the mood, but it was not a good decision.

A few people laughed, but my humor is usually received better than that.  I realized that this is not a time for laughter.

Unfortunately, if I don’t laugh, I will cry.  I will take a pocket full of tissues for my last day.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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18 Responses to Saying goodbye

  1. Sandy Steffen October 21, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    You and Susan will be missed very much!!! We wish you all the very best as you embark on this new adventure. I will have Kleenex for the next 2 Sundays +!!! Sandy

  2. Dee Harris October 21, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    Even reading this makes me cry. I’ve got the “Doug is leaving Blues”……

  3. Sue Brandon October 21, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    We know you will miss us. The people at First Pres are a truly wonderful congregation. We will miss you too and wish you only the best in your future endeavors.

  4. Mandana Sharifi October 21, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

    Dear Doug…Just wanted to let you know that truly it’s because of your compassionate heart and genuine welcome to the church couple of years ago that mother and I finally decided to move back to Fort Lauderdale last year from Bath UK! You made an amazing impression on us. Selfishly, I pray that Switzerland gets so cold that you decide to come right back!!! lol :0) ….you are missed already….Mandana :0/

  5. mike October 21, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    Hi Doug – It’s been great having you lead our worship services and encouraging our
    commitments to our faith.

    Received an email from my daughter tonight asking if we could arrange for her to come home from college to be with you for your last sermon at FirstPres. She’ll be there…with one more hug.

    Joshua 1:9 was meant for times like this – for all of us.

    See You Sunday,


  6. Lia House October 21, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    Before this entry, I had never read your blog, although I’m not sure why, because we all know I’m like your biggest fan. As much as I enjoyed reading this, it did, however, bring me to tears. Before you were a part of our church family, I never really listened to the sermons, to be honest, i just kind of sat there and tuned in and out as I tried to stay awake. But your sermons, on the other hand, actually get me listening. Of course, it’s possible that you just happened to come in at a good time, when I was in high school so I was a little more mature, but all things the same, I always found myself very interested in what you had to say. The sermons you give are the perfect combination of funny, insightful and deep. Funny to keep it comfortable, insightful to teach and enlighten, and deep to make us think. There have been many occasions where I have boasted to people about how great you are, not just as a pastor, but as a friend as well. Never in my life have I ever seen or heard of a church’s senior pastor coming in and sitting in during youth group. I vividly remember you doing that when you first came to First Pres and my parents can attest to how wonderful I thought that was. Also, your presence on mission trip was such a blessing. I will always remember Copperhill, Tennessee, where we were paired up as buddies. I actually was a little disappointed at first because of course I wanted to be paired up with one of my friends, but I’m so happy that i had the opportunity to get to know you. You are amazing all around and First Pres is going to be very different without you. I don’t know when we will get to see you again after you leave, but I do know that whoever takes your place has VERY VERY big shoes to fill. I think I speak for the entire congregation when I say that you will be greatly missed and we love you

    • Doug October 22, 2013 at 11:30 am #

      Lia, that’s probably the most wonderful tribute I’ve ever received, and if a person had only one to receive in life, I would choose this one. Thank you. As for the cutting remark about my shoe size…that was really mean. But, yes, I have really big feet. I will miss you (and I’m so glad you’re coming home for my last Sunday)!

  7. Mandana Sharifi October 21, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    I totally agree with you Lia…. :0/

  8. Barb Keith October 21, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

    This is a real loss for our church.
    I get teary just thinking about you and Susan leaving. I’m sad that Tom and I will not be back to Fort Lauderdale until after you are gone. I am a teary person, and I’m tearing up at the thought. You will be missed, but we wish the best for you.
    It will be our loss!!!!
    Barbie & Tom Keith

  9. Glenda Fegers October 22, 2013 at 5:11 am #

    Doug, I am very happy and excited for you and Susan. You have accomplished much in our church and for our community. I hope you continue this blog while you are overseas so that we can continue to receive your humble insights. Sending you love, smiles and hugs, as you go through this process of change.

  10. bob sadowski October 22, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    yes, you will be missed my friend. I really appreciate your sense of humor, which of course means being the recipient of much of the humor. So good sport safe travels and I will find a way to reach on that lofty pulpit.

    • Doug October 22, 2013 at 11:32 am #

      I’ll check out the pulpit every time I climb up there to see if maybe you left something for me and are sitting out in the congregation with a big smile. (You can get rid of the fire extinguisher anytime!)

  11. Laurie Fuller October 22, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    You have made a very great impact on my life as well as my children/granddaughter. I will miss you very much! So before I cry, I wish you and your wonderful wife the best and hope your new congregation will love you as much as we do.

  12. Georgia Hamilton October 22, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    Dear Doug,

    I read all the responses to your blog before trying to compose one of my own! (The Joshua passage was especially appro-po) As a pastor you’ve had to say “good-bye” more times than most people. If it were ever easy then something had to be terribly wrong preceding the farewell! I’m reminded of your last Sunday with us–there wasn’t a dry eye in all of Stewart Hall! I too, hope you’ll continue your blog, as you never fail to leave your readers with some new insight or reminder. May you experience God’s blessings and assurances l as you forge a new path.

    Georgia Hamilton

  13. Earl October 22, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    You know where I stand on this situation. God calls, and we respond. The race is not over yet, and He will find a way for us to look at Him, and go forward. Miss you already.

  14. leslie October 22, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    Ah, Dougie Fresh,
    “Tis better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.”
    Yes, there will be tears, but they will be bitter sweet. Its the same as when I sent Malcolm off to college, not wanting to let him go, and sad for the void in my life, but understanding that change is necessary for growth and loving him enough to find joy in the next chapter of his life.
    I will joyfully send you off for your Swiss adventure and look forward to hearing all about it. I’m actually very proud that you would take such a bold step and follow your heart. Not many have the courage to do that but thats what life is all about.
    Thank you for making such a positive impact in my children’s life and for being such a kind man. I love you.
    The world is a small place and we will stay connected.


  15. william benson October 27, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    Upon seeing you today I didn’t fully realize how truly glad I would be to see you.
    Yes today you did make us laugh but I also hung on every word. You gave us much to think about, and homework to do. I hope I can succeed even a little
    Love you, Billy B

  16. Heidi Gagnon November 5, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    Tears are in my eyes as I read each response. You have touched so many of us through the years and we still miss you here in Wheaton! God has wonderful plans for you, and those in Switzerland will be so happy to have you as their new Pastor. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us through your blog….I will continue to be faithful reader! Hopefully, you will look out during some Sunday and see me sitting in a pew listening to your message! Keep us posted on any new mission trips because Africa was outstanding.

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