Have you thought about the longest word in our language? Of course, if you Google “longest word,” this word pops up first: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis
But in matters of the heart and feeling and life, what is the longest word? What is the longest word for you?
For me, the longest word is:
Packed into those 7 letters is the heartspace between when I spoke or wrote or even thought the word and my final departure from this earth.
I’m talking about the good-bye that means “I will never see you again on this planet,” or “I will never see you again in my life,” or “Even though we’re saying we’ll see each other again, we both know we won’t.” That’s the longest word for me.
Included with those 7 letters is a hyphen. The space for the empty space that remains after the leaving. No matter why the word is spoken, or in what tone or feeling, the departure leaves an emptiness that somehow never quite goes away.
I know I’m talking vaguely here. At my age, I’ve said a lot of good-byes. Some I initiated and planned. Some were a shock to me. Some were going to happen no matter what I did or said. Some were gifts. Regardless of how or why, the leaving left an empty space in my life.
Death is the final good-bye. The one we must say to a loved one who departs this life. And our own personal life. Granted, that is the most difficult good-bye say. And to live with. And to carry as we go on with life.
I admit it. I feel cheated. I’ve never had the beautiful, heartfelt good-bye to a loved one. Family and friends gathered around. Singing old hymns. Praying. Reading from the Bible. Lovingly ushering the dying person into God’s presence.
All my personal good-byes have been slow. Tortuous. Over weeks, months, years. One cell, one ability, one lost pleasure at a time. Watching my loved ones lose capacities, memories, functions. Seeing their personalities turn into not even a shadow of the person I once knew. Witnessing the cruelty of disease and sickness, the thieves that would ultimately take them away from me.
My Dad. My friends Sally and Lill. My Mom. Most recently, Dan, my Dad’s best friend.
And my husband Gene.
When I married Gene, diabetes had already stolen his eyesight. Over the next 7 years, this disease took away his kidney function, damaged his heart, and decreased circulation in his arms and legs. It colored every day with shades of sadness, fear, frustration.
Emergencies became the norm. Schedules revolved around illness instead of health. There were many times when I felt like we were married to the disease instead of to each other.
Our good-bye was long and slow. As days, weeks, months passed, we focused more and more on managing diabetes. Less and less on growing our relationship. I know that’s a pitfall of chronic illness, and we fell into it.
Our love was overshadowed by what was ahead. The reality we couldn’t bring ourselves to talk about.
I had seen Gene survive so much in the 25 years I’d know him, and I was so sure he would survive the onslaught of this disease. So sure that God was going to provide a miracle cure for him. So sure that we would still have many more years to be together.
During Gene’s final illness, there was so much to cope with and on so many fronts. I was caught in the circles of the Os in good-bye.
Through all of the trials, we were never alone. God gave me the strength to handle whatever needed to be handled. God gave him the strength to go through treatments, hospitalizations, medications, pain. God gave us the strength to keep going, keep loving.
On a crisp fall day, on our front porch, Gene’s body gave up the fight. By the time I got to him, he was unconscious. Then, he was gone.
I didn’t even get to say the word to him: “Good-bye.” My last words to him were: “Don’t leave me.” If he heard me.
That’s why good-bye is the longest word for me. Because I’ve seen how death so often cheats us out of what we want, what we thought we couldn’t live without. How death is more than an event. How a person can gradually slip away while we are watching.
But praise God! No matter how long or short or quick or slow our earthly good-byes are, we have God’s eternal presence and love. We are never alone. And we are still here so we can help others deal with their good-byes.
“Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness. May God’s grace be eternally upon all who love our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 6:23-24).
Laura Warfel is a widow, writer, and follower of Jesus Christ. Her greatest joy is to bring others along with her on her faith journey. In 2015, because of the encouragement of the Launch Out Conference and Jon Acuff, she launched More Than A Widow on Facebook and Twitter. Today she blogs, tweets, and posts to help widows (and those who know them) find encouragement, hope, and resources for the journey. Her goal is to help all widows live beyond the label and live as more than a widow.
Copyright © 2017 by Laura Warfel