Saying Goodbye Gets Easier with Time and Experience

Peace Village Bridge Reflection Most children have no concept of time and little to no understanding of loss, not to mention the concept of “goodbye.” Ironically however, one of the first things a mother teaches her baby is to wave “bye bye.” When we put them to bed for the night we are teaching them about leaving and being left. The first skill a child learns in the high chair is to drop things over the edge. At one level the life of any human being from birth onward is one long saying of goodbye.

          We leave childhood behind and with it many of the beliefs and rationalizations with which we grew up. As we grow older and seek out knowledge for ourselves, we often abandon our old ideas and perhaps even our cherished beliefs. We move away from old neighborhoods and old friends, we meet new situations and learn new ways to cope, saying goodbye to old ways and old situations. As we grow on in years, over and over we find ourselves, sometimes happily, sometimes sadly having to say goodbye.

Recently Stephen and I attended a graveside funeral for a long time friend. It was a lovely occasion with many in attendance, some of whom had entertaining stories about him to share. He was well loved and had traveled the world; he had lived his life to the fullest. This may be why before he died he could say to at least one friend: “I’m looking forward to the next adventure.”

The Waterside Cemetery in Upton where his physical presence on earth will rest in a plot overlooking the pond where he used to fish, is a lovely, peaceful place. There, together with his other friends we said goodbye to the earthly remains of our friend and then went to a nearby function room to celebrate his life and share our memories of him. An important part of a funeral and afterward is to share stories about the deceased that help recall his life with love and joy.

Saying goodbye to someone I’ve known for a long time, though perhaps not been close to feels strange. When I haven’t seen a person in some time and then they pass on, I have trouble remembering they’re gone. Just the other day when I drove past the former address of a dear departed friend I was almost persuaded to stop and ring her doorbell. I had to remind myself that no, she no longer lives there, and no, I can’t visit for a cup of tea.

As I gain in years I find myself saying goodbye more frequently, both to people and to certain aspects of my life. My bucket list has grown shorter. There are things I once thought I wanted to do that I now do not wish to, like go up on an air balloon. I once believed it would be fun to go on a three months ocean cruise. Not any longer. Vigorous gardening is a thing of the past. Still, as I miss all to which I have said goodbye, I am reminded to cherish all that still remain.

An Appropriate Costume



As a young child growing up in the country I was accustomed to seeing death. Baby chicks perished; Ducklings drowned; something attacked my rabbits and the ones that hadn’t died were too wounded to survive and had to be killed. Several of our dogs and cats suffered their demise in front of our house. I understood death as a natural part of life and nothing to be feared. Until I was in college no significant adults of my acquaintance passed on except my Great Grandmother when I was only four.

Halloween wasn’t a big deal when I was small. What I remember was the occasional party, with games, and carving pumpkins. We lived in the country and without a neighborhood to go trick or treating, I wasn’t taken anywhere to accumulate candy. Besides, my mother didn’t approve of eating candy; it was bad for the teeth. Later on, however I enjoyed dressing up my children and taking them around to the neighbors.

Where I live now Halloween costumes will soon proliferate as children roam the sidewalks for trick or treat,. Dressed as ghosts, scarecrows, or pirates or masked as the current political figures the wearers follow a tradition that goes back many centuries. Halloween in the United States is somewhat similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead. It comes from a long tradition of honoring those who have moved on from their bodies to the wider life of the spirit.

It was once believed that on October 31 the spirits of the dead could inflict harm or at least return in some way to communicate with the living because the veil between this world and the next is thin. Then some hoped to consult spirits of the dead, believing they could tell where treasure was buried, or what the future held. Some remnants of fear remain from then, though they are not taken seriously.

My grandmother passed on when I was in college and hers was the first dead body I ever saw. It did not frighten me. She had been prepared for burial and set out in her living room prior to the funeral the next day. That evening as I approached her body I realized it wasn’t my grandmother, that it was just clothes she had worn once and now no longer needed. Death did not then nor does it now seem to me to be something of which to be frightened. Life is more than a physical experience.

Halloween costumes can serve as a reminder that there is little to fear from the transition called death. A change of clothing is appropriate to a change of form. Just as I can’t fit into my baby garments or the clothes I wore for my first day of school, I can expect someday to outgrow this body, and to discard it for clothing suitable for the form I will then inhabit. While the unknown is always a little unnerving to contemplate, whatever happens whether in this life or the next is an adventure to which I look forward.

Thorns and Roses

Maine Roses and Hips -15          The season of roses approaches. One of my delights is to drive with the windows open and smell the fragrant wild white roses that border the roadsides. I know they are an invasive species. I found that out when I planted some by our swimming pool and after a year found myself dodging them. Soon they loomed over the fence and began reaching out to snare unwary swimmers, not to mention encroaching on the neighboring raspberries.

However their scent is amazingly beautiful, and for the several weeks of their blossoming any excuse will do for me to drive around just to smell them. Though I have not been able to grow them successfully, I have always loved cultivated roses and to receive them as a gift. Nowadays many commercial roses come without thorns. Somehow this seems wrong. In my mind, thorns and roses go together, and lately I have been thinking about this as a metaphor for life.

My daughter’s beloved mother-in-law passed on a little while ago. I was looking for a card to express my sympathy to my son-in-law and daughter when I ran across the two cards I had bought to send to cheer up the now recently deceased. I had lost track of them and been meaning to look harder so as to send them to her. Now it is too late. However, while I have regrets I will not hold onto them because what’s done is done and cannot be changed any longer.

One of my favorite teachers, the late Pir Valayat Inayat  Khan used to say, “Rather than regret that roses have thorns, rejoice that thorns have roses.” There is always something to be learned from the thorniest situation or relationship. I remember reading an essay by Emerson to the effect that one’s enemies are to be cherished because they help us to learn. Difficult situations do the same, as do difficult relationships. Another recent passing of someone with whom I experienced failure in this regard makes me sigh.

What saddens me is that no matter how deep my regret, the past cannot be changed. This can cause either serious dismay or graceful resignation. The missed opportunity to make up after a quarrel, the disappointed hope or expectation, the fervent desire for a change of heart are all thorns, yet regardless how much I wish things had been different, a least the thorns do in fact all have their own roses.

The pricking of the thorns is also a reminder to cherish the roses. While it is not possible to change the past, there are always opportunities to influence the future. It reminds me to acknowledge and to cherish the friendships I do have and to appreciate the gifts of generosity and love that bless my life. To regret the past is to cloud the present and perhaps even tinge the future with unnecessary sadness. As I work to cultivate the garden of my life I will water the roses of my resolutions with joy.

Into the Next Room

Maple Flowers          The first person whose death I remember hearing about was a relative named Cousin Ellen Parker. My memory of her is of someone roundish, gray haired, and somewhat wrinkled. I have no real memory of her other than of her appearance. She must have died when I was around four. My great grandmother died in her eighties when I was five. I don’t remember hearing much about that. I do have a vivid memory of picking dandelions in our yard and seeing her walking along in her purple hat. When I told my mother she insisted Grandma Great was dead and I couldn’t have seen her. But I had.

In those days death wasn’t usually discussed in front of children. I knew nothing of people dying, only small animals and occasionally pets. The rest of my family was healthy and active, living vigorously for many more years. I grew up with the idea that death was something that happened to people who were old. Times have changed. I have outlived not only my parents but now some of my friends and acquaintances.

This past week Stephen and I heard about three people dear to us who have stepped into the next room–another way to say they have passed from this life. As I write this, it is the birthday of another friend whose death I found out about earlier this year. Stephen and I both find it difficult to believe that these and other friends are gone from our sight. I find myself regretting that I never sent that card I meant to send, or made that phone call.

How can we know when someone’s time will run out? When the card we mean to send or the call to make can no longer be sent or made? No matter how well meaning I try to be there will always be that last small gesture that won’t be made before they are gone. There’s no way to predict when someone will make that transition from life on earth to the wider realm from which no one returns.

As I grow older in years I notice that more and more of the people I have known depart this life for the next. How can this be? Children believe one must be old to die. I’m not old so how can they be old enough to leave this life? When I was growing up I thought of fifty as old. As I approached that time I thought of the succeeding years as indicating age. Now it seems to me that there is no time limit on “old,” nor any way to tell what age is appropriate for the end of life.

It seems no matter how many years I accumulate, I still somewhere within me, retain my youth. From the other side of fifty and more, although the years tell me a different story, I don’t feel very much older. Why have these dear ones left me? It seems only yesterday that we were all in the sunshine of our years. Now the shade encroaches. Still I trust that those I miss are freer now, and without pain. My sorrow at their passing is only for me, not for them. However, I have my memories of them, and these will remain with me for all my years to come.

Tasha Halpert

Living with Dying by Tasha Halpert

Halloween Well dressed SkeletonI had begun writing this column prior to the disastrous tragedy in Paris. It seems even more relevant now that sudden death has as it were, stared us in the face. The media brings it all so close to home. Even so, none of us know the when and the where of our final days in this life here on earth. it is also true that some of us have been given a time limit of sorts, an acknowledgement that our lives have an expiration date. When I hear from someone that this is the case for them, I become more mindful of my own mortality.

There are cultures that are more comfortable with both the prospect and the actuality of death than others. They are more accepting, seeing it as a seamless part of life rather than an end to it. They remain in communication with those who have crossed over into another dimension. To me death appears to signal a change in form,  a continuation not a final chapter. I’ve been changing my form since I was born so what is called death can’t be all that different. The most unsettling part of death may be the process of dying and not knowing what may or may not happen next.

Balzac’s final words were said to be, “I go to the great perhaps.” Despite reports to the contrary, no one knows for sure what will happen because it hasn’t yet happened to them. The unknown quantity that represents our change in form can be daunting, even fearsome. What can we say to comfort the feelings of one who has been given an end point to his or her existence? It may seem better not to know, yet the knowledge that there is a time limit on one’s life can in certain ways be helpful. At the least it gives one the opportunity to do what needs doing before the actual event comes about.

When I was a child I wasn’t worried about anything that might happen to me; I greatly feared the death of my parents. As an adult who has since seen the passing of an adult child as well as both parents to their next form, I am well acquainted with the feelings of loss that ensue from the deaths of dear ones. The fear that made me tremble as a young child has become a prayer for the health and happiness of those I hold close to my heart. I recognize the inevitability of death, and I accept it. I also try to make the most of whatever time I may have with those I hold dear.

It is popular to make a “bucket list” of what one wishes to do before “kicking the bucket.” Depending on one’s age, that might include traveling to see distant marvels, finishing certain tasks, parachuting out of an airplane, or a multitude of potential activities that beckon the adventuresome. If and when I have knowledge of my conclusion in this life I will do what I can to finish up what needs to be finished. However, I feel that regardless what the rest of my life may hold rather than plan what to do, it is more important for me simply to continue to learn and grow in as many ways as possible.

Death is a Part of Life by Tasha Halpert

DSCF0192 The recent announcement of President Carter’s cancer follows on the heels of my hearing about many others whose illness of one sort or another has proclaimed their relatively immanent mortality. In other words, a multitude of serious sicknesses–cancer, heart problems and other conditions of ill health have invaded the lives of people I know and in many cases, love. Perhaps this has to do with getting older. I do not remember hearing as much about such things only a few years ago.

I may have been fortunate in this respect: The death of people I knew and loved wasn’t part of my childhood experience–I went to my first funeral, an aged cousin when I was twelve. Yet death as a part of life was no stranger to me. Growing up with pets and small farm animals I had an intimate acquaintance with it. Ducklings, rabbits, dogs, cats, and the chickens we ate for dinner all lived and died as I watched. I buried my pets myself with due ceremony. I watched as the chicken for dinner was beheaded with an ax.

When I was in my twenties I thought little about death. Then my children’s father nearly perished in an automobile accident. The thought of those I loved dying now forced itself on my attention and I began more to appreciate the specialness of life and of my relationships. Still, I was occupied with life and death wasn’t something I thought much about. Time went by and my grandmother died. She seemed to me an appropriate age to pass on. While I mourned her absence, I was busy with life and my little ones, we were no longer living close to one another and I did not miss her presence.

Years later death grew more familiar. I lost my father to illness, then my own precious son. Some years later several young friends died untimely deaths. Moe and more I was brought to an understanding of the place of death in life. As much as I mourned, I began to recognize that death was indeed a part of life; that dying was merely the blowing out of the candle that was lit at birth. Life is a gift for which I am grateful and the lives of those I love and have loved are very dear to me. Yet like flowers we grow, bud, blossom an finally wilt away.

Untimely death is harder to bear than what seems a natural process. My rabbits were killed when a dog got into their pen. My dog was run over in front of me. Later on my son died far sooner than he might have. Yet even untimely, this is still death as a part of life. Although I miss him still, my sorrow is not so much for his death as it is for the life he was not able to live. We are all most fortunate for whatever time we have on this earth. In my nightly prayers I make sure to express my gratitude for my dear ones, those whose candles still burn brightly. May they continue.

Love, Grief, and Joy

There is a Hebrew saying that goes, if there were no grief to hollow out our hearts, where would there be room for joy? I would add, or compassion.


We learn about pain by feeling it ourselves.  We learn about grief and bereavement by losing loved ones. The lessons life has to teach may be harsh or gentle but those that teach compassion invariably revolve around a sense of loss.  Perhaps this is what is meant by the hollowing of the heart by grief. 


The sense of loss makes an emptiness where there has been fullness, aloneness where there was companionship.  When we feel these feelings we can cry for them, letting our tears soothe the pain and wash it away, or we can cry out against them and they will harden to rock within us and weigh us down.  What fills that hollow place is love.  But we must pour it out to our own selves


As we grow older, if we absorb and process our life experiences, we develop that part of us able to look with love and forgiveness at whatever life presents. Those who die and leave us behind help hollow our hearts.  As we let go the ache of missing the physical presence, it becomes easier to accept the loss.  Time is the best healer, and patience with ourselves. 


As I grow on in years, my losses

Leave larger holes behind;

in my life’s landscape, grief has been useful,

reminding me that all we have is now;

we had best enjoy it because it is a gift.


My grief is not a weight, nor a cloud,

it is not a blindfold hiding joy,

rather it is an ever giving spring

reminding me to look, to breathe, to know

that all life blooms and fades and love grows on.


Photo and text by Tasha Halpert

Living With Small Deaths

by Tasha Halpert

My earliest experience with the death of a pet happened when I was too young to remember it. It became a family story my mother was fond of telling. The way she told it, when I was almost four my parents won a turkey in a raffle, brought it home and kept it in a cage in the yard. I was fond of the turkey and named it Tuty. At Thanksgiving as planned, the turkey was killed, plucked stuffed and roasted. As family and guests gathered to eat and my dad was carving the turkey I piped up: “Where is my Tuty? I want my Tuty.”  After that no one wanted any.

When I was small, death was not discussed in front of children. They were more sheltered than today’s children who from an early age see the adult world right before their eyes on television. I learned about it too, but in a way, first hand: seeing the small deaths around me. Baby ducks perished as they hatched; baby chickens accidentally drowned in the water pan; rabbits were attacked by a neighboring dog; and several dogs and cats were run over by cars speeding by our house.

My family lived in the country in a cottage on my Great Aunt Alice’s property. There were many animals, large and small whose living and dying were part of our everyday life. As a result death seemed to me to be quite natural. I mourned, yet not for long. There were always more animals to pat and to play with. I confess that sometimes I was not nice to them. The cat did not like it when I dressed her in doll clothes and tried to make her lie down in my doll bed. The dog did not appreciate this either. Sheeshee, a small white Spitz mix was gentle however, and did not, like the cat, protest too much or try to scratch me. She lived with us a good long time and was much loved. I have no memory of her passing, which makes me wonder if perhaps I was away at school then.

She managed to have two puppies when she was quite young and before my parents had her spayed. Peloto was left behind in Florida where he was born on a working vacation we spent there with my father. Tallahassee lived with us until tragically he was hit by a truck right in front of me. The driver, terribly upset drove the dog and me to the veterinarian to see if Tallahassee could be saved. I remember holding him on my lap and feeling very sad. His internal injuries were too severe for him to continue to live. I buried him with ceremony. Somehow even though I never attended a real funeral until I was 12, I seemed to know about reverently burying a loved animal and praying over its grave.

Our rabbits provided an experience of both birth and death. They were kept in a hutch outdoors. I remember asking my mother one day why one of them wouldn’t come out of the little house that sheltered them from bad weather. She showed me the infant rabbits that were emerging from their mother. That was wonderful to see and I was thrilled. After that I understood where babies came from although not how they got in there. Having animals helps children learn about these things naturally and under gentle conditions. When my children were small they had guinea pigs that helped them learn these important facts of life.

I believe we had the rabbits a year or two. Then somehow a fierce dog got in and mangled the ones he did not kill. When I was told the wounded rabbits were to be “put to sleep” by Carl, my great aunt’s gardener, I was very upset. In tears I walked past the boundaries of our property so as not to hear him shoot them. I remember that for this act of disobedience I was sent to my room without supper and made to go to bed early. Although I missed the rabbits, I did not mourn them for long. I was always encouraged to get over my grief quickly, and usually I did.

Life and death had their place, and so did religion. Each Sunday I accompanied my mother to her Catholic church while my dad went to his Protestant one. On Easter, Christmas and special occasions we also went to his. Although I found my mother’s simple Catholic church to be bleak and cheerless, I enjoyed my visits to my dad’s comfortable Episcopalian one;. Needing my own church for myself  I created one where I could go and pray when I wished.

I chose a corner outdoors between the chimney and the wooden wall of the small potting shed and greenhouse where Carl the gardener started plants for my Great Aunt’s garden. To substitute for the hard wooden kneeling benches of my mother’s church, I collected moss to kneel on. I used a brick for an altar and tied two sticks to make a wooden cross. On the other side of the chimney I created a cemetery where I buried small animals and birds as well as one of our cats. That church was my place of comfort. I often went there to talk to God. I also developed a small graveyard where I buried  baby chicks and ducks as well as a cat and dog that had perished.

My mother loved her animals. At one time she had two goats. Ebony, the larger of the two was very fond of Mama. The other escaped her tether and ate grass sprayed with arsenic from under my Great Aunt’s apple trees. They told me about her death but did not show her to me. I was often shielded from what was harsh or ugly. Ebony lived quite a long time and even though she had never been bred she used to give milk.

My great Aunt kept chickens as did we. I remember as a very young child being pinned down by a huge rooster that somehow escaped the coop and threatened to attack me as I walked through the apple orchard. Eventually someone came to my rescue and shooed the bird away. Chickens were food, not pets, so there was no sorrow associated with their demise.When they were to be eaten Carl used to kill them. He would cut off their heads with an ax and they would run around the yard headless. Then my mother valiantly plucked the feathers from the warm bird and either roasted or boiled it, depending on the age.

When I was six or seven it became my job to take care of our chickens. I didn’t mind doing it in the summer. There was a convenient faucet near the chicken coop where I could fill their water holder. However, in winter the water faucet was turned off so it wouldn’t freeze. I had to lug heavy pails of water as well as buckets of grain and mash all the way from the barn to the chicken house fifty feet or more away. This was how I earned my allowance so I didn’t dare slack off.

One March I had a brilliant idea. The hen house was close to a marsh that flooded every spring. Daily I filled their water bucket from this convenient source. A couple of weeks later our chickens began to die. At first no one knew why. Then my father called me into the living room. It seems Carl had seen me as I filled the bucket. I expect I was punished. Probably I lost my allowance for a time, though I don’t remember. I did feel very sorry for what I had done to the poor chickens. My parents were even more upset because they couldn’t eat them. I was reminded of that for years.

Worse than the death of Tallahassee was what happened to my mother’s dog Nicky. I was four or five at the time, and I did not eat with my parents but earlier, in my room. I remember the experience vividly. Nicky was my mother’s cherished black and white border collie. He was a bit rambunctious and tended to wander so we weren’t to let him out unattended. One day I accidentally let him out. I was upstairs eating when my mother rushed in. “Nicky’s dead and it’s all your fault.” She sobbed. It seemed that before he could be retrieved a delivery truck pulling into Aunt Alice’s driveway had hit him.

I remember that my mouth opened and the green peas I had just put in spilledback onto my plate. I began to cry. I felt guilty for Nicky’s death for a long time. However, he wasn’t the last dog for whose death I was responsible. Years later when I was driving down a snow banked highway at about 40 miles an hour with my children in the back seat, a great big German shepherd came running  right down the middle of the highway toward me. I couldn’t stop, and I couldn’t avoid the dog. Had I tried to swerve to the right or the left I would have hit a snow bank. I had three small children in the car. I had no choice.

Afterward I stopped my car and went back to get the dog’s collar so I could tell the owner. I dragged the body to the side of the road and drove home. I had made sure to hit the dog hard enough to kill it because otherwise it would have been crippled or maimed and suffered terribly. I felt dreadful. Yet I could not risk my children’s lives to try to save the dog. When I explained the owner thanked me. Apparently the dog had gotten out and had followed his truck. He was not upset with me and I was grateful. While I felt sad I did not feel guilty.

Death is part of life. Life is part of death. I learned this at an early age. Sometimes we cannot help causing the death of a loved pet. Sometimes we have to choose death over life because it is the best choice in a situation. Sometimes we have no choice because we simply do not know any better. I have spent many years of my life learning to be as conscious of my actions and their consequences as I could. Death seems to have followed me even as I have reached out to embrace it when need be. Animals are with us for a short time. Perhaps they are our teachers about the necessity for death. Perhaps we can learn from them to embrace it when it comes to us, knowing that we too are a part of creation and that like them we return to the Source.

ImageSt. Stephen’s Church, Bologna by Tasha Halpert

Sunset Musings

Image                                                                            Photo Copyright  Chris Lorenz 2013


Even as the sun sinks

I can almost taste the dawn.
Sunrise and sunset are mirrors
East and West reflecting:
Birth and death, two sides of a coin
Waving hello or goodbye, but waving.

When we die to one day, we are born to another.
When we are born, what do we leave behind?
Each dawn is a birth, each night a death,
I watch the sunset, wondering what the sunrise will bring.

As the light dwindles
Hemlock branches darken against the twilight sky.
As they sway, tracing their gentle dance
The dusk fades to night.
I watch the last sunset clouds
Grey and dissolve.
Tomorrow’s promise
Sings in the memory of the light.

                           Tasha Halpert