Small Goodbyes: Opening the Heart to Loss and Love

Being alone was all right, as long as nobody came and left again.  — Das Blauekleid (The Blue Dress) by Doris Doerrie, translated by Ellen Schmidt

At 1:00 am, I look out my bedroom window and see Anthony’s rental car in the driveway. I didn’t hear my younger son arrive, but his black sneakers are by the front door and his coat is tossed over a chair. The door to his childhood bedroom is closed and the lights are out, so I climb back into bed and fall into deep sleep, knowing Anthony has arrived safely from his home in San Francisco.

“What would you like for breakfast?” I ask the next morning. Anthony usually cooks eggs.

“Oatmeal,” Anthony suggests. What? I tried to get him to eat oats for the first 18 years of his life, but he never ate oats. Not once.

“It’s part of my low cholesterol plan,” he grins.

I cook a pot of steel-cut oats with raisins while Anthony makes coffee and checks his email. Before noon, he leaves for a few hours in town. I happily return to writing.

sunset Finger Lakes, New York

In the evening, I walk through the fields with my dog Willow. The sunset makes a rainbow streak on the distant hillsides overlooking Seneca Lake.

Yip, yip, yip, hah…ouuu. I pause to listen to the coyotes. Willow cocks her ears in the direction of the stream.

I wait for another stanza. Yip, yip, yip, hah…ouuu, then another howl far to the west and a response from close by.

Anthony’s car swings into the driveway. He walks toward me, smiling, waving.

“Wow,” he says opening his arms to the sky. “Beautiful.”

“This is why I live here,” I tell him what he already knows.

The coyotes are quiet now, but Anthony has heard them many times. He loves this land, just as I do. Inside, we watch the cloud bottoms take on a faint apricot glow while we heat minestrone soup and make salad. It’s easy being together. Sweet, quiet, familiar.

The next morning, we eat our oats quickly. Anthony is a technical recruiter and he’s on his way to Ithaca for a day of interviews for his company. I will lead a bereavement group at Hospicare just as his plane is leaving this evening and won’t see him again this trip. I walk beside him to his car, hug him, and walk back toward the house, holding my sorrow close to my chest.

In just 36 hours, I have grown used to having someone I love in the house. It’s not only Anthony. It’s the same for his older brother David and David’s partner Liz. It’s the same when friends from afar stay a night or two and fill the house with the smell of mint toothpaste and the jangling tunes of cell phones. After four years of solitude, I should be used to living alone, but I still sleep most soundly when surrounded by a human pack.

I clench my belly against a wave of sorrow, then catch myself. If I steel my heart against the pain of parting, I also block the sweet communion of love.

Breathe, I remind myself. Welcome every gift of the heart, no matter how brief and accept the pain of even small goodbyes. Love comes with loss and loss with love. It always did, but it was easier to forget before Vic died.

I walk out into the field, breathe in the cold morning air, and howl. Then I listen for the coyotes.


For more articles on love and loss, see the bereavement section of this website.

  1. Yet again a beautiful, poignant story, Elaine. Thank you so much for this story.

  2. At two years of that same solitude…I do understand so well. I do not like it when guests leave even if they were here for 30 minutes.
    Peace to your heart,

    • Mary, thank yo for shining a light on the briefest goodbyes–the ones we go through every day, every hour, every breath. May we learn to flow with the constant change of life while experiencing the Love that remains. I send peace back to your heart, Elaine

  3. Beautifully written.

  4. Am aquainted with the work of the authress of Das blaue Kleid. Much of a person’s live is contained in that short sentence…Thanks and hugs

    • Johanna, thanks for your comment. I haven’t read anything else by Doris Doerrie, but was grateful that Ellen Schmidt shares this sentence in a writing class. Universal truths in a few simple words. Today our friend Richard left this earth–coming and going, in big and small ways, whether we like it or not.

      • I did not know that Richard died until you told me on the phone. Am slowly getting into the habit to check your blog and read about your work. Sept.2nd – Werner and I were @ Lodi pont with the bikes, it was our 40th year of marriage. And David and Liz got engaged

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