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Never Say Good-bye


Believing that you never say "good-bye" to someone you intend to see again, generations of Celtic women refused to bid their men farewell or even to watch their retreating figures.

It was a tradition my Irish/Scottish mother believed in wholeheartedly. As children we were constantly reminded to only say "so long" to family and friends. Mom never failed to correct me if I yelled "good-bye" as I was on my way out. It was her way of protecting me.

Mom had good reason to want to guard us from mishap; her own life had been full of illness and tragic loss. The sense of impending doom never left her even after years of peaceful living.

As I grew older she descended deeper and deeper into an alcoholic haze. Sometimes she would come out of it for a while, get a job or clean the house. On other occasions she would confide in me some of the terrors she had endured as the child of a drunken, abusive father.

In later years she seemed to rally, going out and making friends. I was happy for the improvement, yet our relationship was clouded with hostile feelings. But even when our conversations were strained, she never failed to correct me if I told her "good-bye" over the phone.

Years of drinking and a bout with the flu took their toll, Mom died. Dad found her in bed, her hand held to her chin as if she were lost in thought, her eyes staring at some unknown vision. Her frail body looked much older than 56.

The family tried desperately to sort out the emotions. No one had expected Mom to die just like that, not without some warning, some mending of past hurts. We tried to get Dad in for counseling, but couldn't stop the self-destructive binge that brought his own death only four months later.

My sister and I stood in the emergency room, silent and disbelieving. We had arrived too late to see him alive. I wanted to shout at Dad's lifeless body, "How could you let this happen?" I felt abandoned and alone. My parents' deaths seemed so unfair, leaving my sisters and me to carry around burdens of guilt and unresolved emotion.

But it was in my mother's old Celtic superstition that I was able to find comfort. Never having had the chance to say "good-bye" felt almost like a blessing as I realized it meant that I would see my parents again. Like the Celtic women of old, I refuse to watch their shadows fade off into the horizon. 

Instead, I close my eyes, picture them in my own version of heaven and say, "So long, Mom and Dad, I'll be seeing you."

© 1999 Noreen Braman