Daddy, why is it so hard to say goodbye?” She asked the question with tears rolling down her cheeks. She had come for the ride, and for a final chance to kiss me goodbye, as my wife dropped me at the curb outside terminal one.
Her sister, eight years old, had come along too. An eminently practical child, undisturbed by most emotional drama, she simply said, “Bye, daddy!”, gave me a quick peck on the cheek, and went back to her book. Her older brother had been content to skip the ride in favor of staying home. But she, the eleven-year-old, was distraught. She had been weeping for the entire half hour it took us to travel from home to the airport. Her cheeks were stained by tears, her eyes full of them, when she hugged me and kissed me and kissed me again. “I love you daddy. I’m going to miss you so much…” And a moment later, “Daddy, why is it so hard to say goodbye?”
My family is accustomed to having me travel. I do it fairly often—usually every month or six weeks. But most of those are short two-day trips and I am home almost before they really realize I’ve been gone. Plus, in some ways life is good when I’m gone—the family gets to eat out more, there is more “fun time” with mom, and one of the girls usually ends up in my bed. But every couple of years I go on a longer trip, like this one to Australia.
“Daddy, why is it so hard to say goodbye?” she asked. And I understood immediately that it was a good question, and a tough one for an eleven-year-old child. I don’t know all the reasons it is so difficult. But it is. We all know it. We have all experienced the pain of saying farewell.
I believe it’s hard because goodbye is an unnatural state. We were created for fellowship—unbroken, sweet communion with God and with one another. The first and most crushing goodbye was God’s goodbye to his people, to Adam and Eve, when they declared independence from him. They had severed themselves from his fellowship and it would take the death of his Son to restore communion.
In a world like this, goodbye is always accompanied by fear. It carries the fear that this may be the final goodbye. Alongside the goodbye is the knowledge that at some point we will each bid the other a final farewell, that there will be a final kiss, a final hug, a final “I love you,” at least on this side of eternity.
For my sweet girl to say goodbye to her father carries that entrenched fear, that deep-rooted inevitability that there must be a final goodbye. Goodbye is difficult only because this world is broken.
She misses me when I am gone, and I miss her. The separation is difficult—the separation from her good morning cuddles, her goodnight kisses, her for-no-reason tokens of love, her sighed “I love you.” But we are just a short week away; there are only a few mornings and a few evenings apart. We will only miss one drive to church listening to Anne of Green Gables and a few evenings of sitting together in the living room reading By the Shores of Silver Lake. But then there is the fear, that back-of-the-mind, out-of-sight but never out-of-mind trepidation that this goodbye might be the final goodbye and, even if it is not, that the final one must come.
It is hard. It is hard to be the girl who misses her daddy, and the daddy who misses his girl. But this is not the time for despair. This is not the time to mourn as those who have no hope. This is the time to give thanks to the one who guarantees that in him there are no final farewells, no permanent separations. It is the time to look forward with hope and joyful anticipation to the time we will never fear saying goodbye.
My girl and I may be separated for a few days. Or maybe the Lord will decide that I do not return from this trip. But even then, the separation will be short because we know, and we believe, in the words of the poet: “One short sleep past we wake eternally, and death will be no more.” In that day death will be gone, and so too will every painful goodbye.