Goodbyes can feel like a fist to the chest. Where is the “good” in goodbye anyway?
That’s what I think at first, when I turn to find her, with tears streaming, padding into my office.
What comes spilling out of my daughter’s mouth was inevitable. Only a matter of time:
“I don’t want to get rid of Sherbert and Daisy, Mom,” she quietly sobs. “I can’t imagine saying goodbye. Please, Mom, can we keep them?”
She’s talking about her calves, a county fair project. But they’ve become more than mere “projects.” They’ve become part of the family. These 200-pound animals have stolen bits of our hearts. We bottle-fed them for weeks, weaned them, bathed and combed them. We took them for walks, rubbed their backs and talked to them with sing-songy voices — like moms do with human babies.
We’re farmers, and we know that calves aren’t meant to be pets. But sometimes you don’t realize you’ve fallen in love until your tear-streaked face makes you know you had your first heartbreak.
In my office, my daughter has herself wrapped up in one of those tie-blankets, like she might be able to edge out the sorrow with something soft. I hold out my arms. Because if the good-bye can’t be good, I can at least offer a safe place for tears to land land.
I deliver the news she already knows: We can’t keep the calves. And even if we could keep them a while longer, we can’t keep them forever. Even the best things come to an end: books, movies, the last of the raspberry pie.
And life. Even life on earth ends.
I try to find a soft, easy way to tell her, but there’s no good way. These are things that must be learned, but can’t always be adequately taught.
Her sorrow soaks into my shoulder, and I watch out the office window as tiny twinkles pin-prick an inky sky.
I rub my daughter’s back, in tiny circles. Then, I let my own damp grief fall onto her hair. And we stand there wordless, wrapped around each other, like a bulwark against all that sadness creeping in.
Outside, Daisy moos, a cry that pierces me through. Even animals know the searing pain of loss. Daisy misses her friend, Sherbert. Daisy is alone in the pen. Days earlier, we hauled Sherbert to the county fair, while Daisy stayed home on the farm. Daisy cried out for hours — a palpable grieving of a calf. And there was no way to tell the two calves that they would reunite a few days later, when the fair ended.
You can’t explain to a calf, what you can’t even explain to a small human being shuddering in your arms.
Here in the office, I tell my daughter that the calves will have a good life. They will soon be taken to another farm, where they will grow up to become heifers — mothers bearing future generations of cattle. I tell her all of that, while trying to choke back my own tears.
It’s not just the calves. It’s everything.
It’s this: It’s knowing that we cannot hold onto life with clenched fists. It all goes. Every bit. Every house will fall, every tree will wither, every creature will die. All the things we’ve come to love about our life on planet Earth will be gone; it is a vapor. The life of every human soul will end, including people we love, and some will die too soon.
Our very souls cry out the obvious: Well then, where are the sure things? Where are the forever things? Is there anything we can hold onto?
Deep within every mortal, we ache for a sure thing. We crave tangible love that cannot be wrenched away. God set eternity in the hearts of men, and we can’t bear life without knowing that there’s a forever out there for us.
It’s so elemental, so simple to say it like that, but it’s the sort of gripping, simple truth that gives people the only Hope they’ll ever really have.
It’s true: There is only one Constant, and He hovers over us in this office, two weak mortals huddled together by the glow of a computer screen. And he hovers over you.
We do believe in one Constant–
in the startling power of Christ, over and in all things.
that He was crucified, died and was buried.
that on the third day He rose again,
And that He is sitting at the right hand of God the Father,
And that He is coming again.
We do believe that there really can be good in goodbye. Because in Christ, we have an actual “see you later” … which is real and true.
We believe in a greater joy that awaits us, a room being prepared for us, and a breathtaking setting-everything-right that puts creation in static anticipation.
I squeeze my daughter one last time, and we remind each other what we believe about all things, and then we let go. And even her … I must let her go.
Two days later, the trailer-door opens and a grand reunion unfolds. Daisy and Sherbert meet at the door of the barn, a nuzzling warm welcome.
And then, the phone rings. The farmer next door says he’ll take the calves next week. They’ll live in his barn. And the girls can visit anytime they’d like.
And I watch it all unfold, like I’m getting a sneak-peek into the grand reunions and the setting-things-to-rights that really will happen someday. And there really is a forever. And I believe it enough to raise unclenched hands to one very real and enduring Constant, our Savior, Christ Jesus.
Writing in community with Michelle DeRusha…