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Learning to Say Goodbye

Letter of gratitude and goodbye from retiring BGAV Executive Director John Upton

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Deb and I have three children and one of the fascinating things about each of them were the first words they spoke. The first word for each of them was “bye-bye.” It was not mama or daddy. It was “bye-bye.” They each said it a lot once they learned it. They would see you put on a coat, and you heard, “bye-bye.” I remember one of them saying it to their crib one morning. Another said it to his bottle when they finished. Isn’t it an interesting choice for a child’s first word?

I know it is one of the easiest sounds we can make, but it also strikes me as an especially fitting first word because it is at the very core of what it means to grow and live, isn’t it? Growing means saying lots of goodbyes. It means leaving many things behind. Frederick Buchner said, “To live is to leave, that is all.”

Summer is a season of goodbyes. School stops, and countless friends say goodbye for the summer to one another. Graduates say a more permanent kind of goodbye. Weddings imply a farewell; it is a departure event where parents proudly watch their children go away. Vacation time is full of goodbyes; we leave to see others whom we promptly leave again.

In any given week, how many goodbyes do you think you say? In person, on the phone, by the computer--how many? It is endless until all of it abruptly ends, and last goodbyes get said. I have had too many of those in recent days.

The Bible is full of goodbyes as well, because it is full of living. That is why there are so many benedictions or farewell blessings recorded. The most famous was for the priest to say, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

Sounds a bit churchy, doesn’t it? It is just how we would expect a minister by a stained-glass window to talk. Yet it is a leaving that intentionally leaves people blessed. I sure wish more of our goodbyes could be like benedictions.

Grady Nutt was a remarkable man who was dear to many people. He was a preacher but primarily a humorist. He was a widely popular speaker and even was a regular on “Hee Haw,” a national TV show. He had a great mind and was an exuberant personality. He was a free spirit and was powerfully generous with love and laughter and huge hugs. A special memory I have is that Grady chaired my ordination council and preached the ordination message.

Grady died in a plane crash, and many gathered for his funeral. Several of us started sharing memories of Grady by asking, “What was the last thing he said to you; can you remember?” We were all astonished to learn that the last words any of us could recall were the same words. Grady would say as we said our goodbyes, “Love ya.” Turns out Grady ended his conversations with friends saying, “Love you.”

Each of us recalled his words never sounded like a routine signoff. They sounded warm with genuine delight and real well-wishing as he sent off. To have that kind of benediction wash over you time and again by a special friend is to walk taller and have an expanded spirit. You find it easier to love and to laugh.

Do not ever underestimate the power of a good last word to bless. Benediction means “a good word.” Why not leave one another more often with such a word?

Part of what this means is to make our goodbye a true departure. I think this is one of the kinder gifts we can give to one another, to release others rightly from ourselves. That may sound strange, since our goodbyes should communicate we are still going to be holding each other in our hearts. A goodbye is a letting go, which may mean sending them into their own freedom to grow. The good news is it is not sending them into the freedom alone. Goodbye literally means, “God be with you.” Goodbye is releasing those you love to God.

I have had the honor of serving the BGAV for over 27 years, twenty of them as Executive Director. To say I love BGAV would be a classic understatement. How can you not love those with whom you have lived so fully? Thank you for the gift of your friendships, the gift of your wisdom, your faith, and your trust.

It is time for BGAV to be released with love to grow into its next self. So, at the conclusion of my role as Executive Director, I would like to offer this benediction: “May the God of love and peace be with you. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Heavenly Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you now and forever more.”

Love ya!

John Upton

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