By Barb Arland-Fye
Father Mike Spiekermeier’s homily on what we say at the time of good-byes moved me because of the tenderness of his message and the people present to hear it. Six of his fellow retired priests, a deacon and two other laywomen, like me, participated in Mass that Wednesday morning on the first day of June in the chapel of St. Vincent Center in Davenport.
The first reading for that day, which I read as lector for the Mass, described the apostle Paul’s farewell address to the presbyters of the Church of Ephesus (Acts 20:28-38). “His emotions are raw as he says a final good-bye to his beloved Ephesians, with whom he has stayed for two years,” Father Mike said in his homily.
“We resonate with his emotions as we remember our own good-byes that we thought might be final. When folks talk about heartache, we know that feeling. Perhaps that parting is only for a time or season, like sending a child off to college or that last night at home before a child’s wedding. It might be a more definite good-bye as when holding the hand of a dying loved one — or being that dying person.”
A lump formed in my throat because I have experienced each of the good-byes that Father Mike described. When my younger son, Patrick, went away to college, the house felt so empty. I missed his presence, even though we sometimes butted heads. Now when I see him, we always exchange a hug at the end of his visit. Our older son, Colin, and I give each other a hug at the end of our visits, too.
My close friend, Marcia, did not realize on an ordinary morning in February when she kissed her husband good-bye as he left for work, that it would be their final good-bye. She remains grateful for that good-bye kiss. After she shared that story, my husband Steve and I began our tradition of a good-bye kiss whenever one of us leaves the house.
I tried to imagine the good-byes that Father Mike and the other retired priests in the chapel have experienced in decades of ministry to people in their time of sadness or grief. How many times has each of the priests served as a reassuring presence to families circled around their loved one? I thought about the deacon assisting at this Mass, whose wife died several years ago after a long illness. Their final good-bye was sealed in love.
In his farewell speech, Paul counsels the Ephesians to keep watch over their flocks and themselves and warns them of the internal and external threats to their faith. “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” he tells the Ephesians. Father Mike sets the scene for us. “They pray, weep, hug and kiss … I can only imagine the solemn procession to his ship.”
What we say at the time of our good-byes, whether temporary or final is important, Father Mike said. Set things right; forgive and overcome bitterness. “If we have loving counsel or concerns, express them. If our love was never expressed in words, do it now for their sake and others. If misunderstanding has caused tension or separation, now is the time for amends. We don’t want to live with regrets.”
Father Mike urged us not to wait until the last minute to express our love and concerns. “Why not now?” If each of us answered that question by our positive actions, we would bring healing to our fractured world. No regrets, just hopeful good-byes.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)