By Patrick Wood
Tess Nowalk, my mother-in-law died last Saturday morning.
She was a beautiful woman in all ways imaginable, who lived a life of quiet service to others.
It’s hard to comprehend how to say goodbye to a person you’ve loved for decades and how to grieve with others who loved her the same when social distancing demands that we stay apart.
It’s even more difficult to come to terms with the earthly finality of her parting, during a pandemic such as this one, when the last farewell is just beyond reach.
Imagine a visitation and funeral where people are lined up outside waiting inside their cars to drive to the grave site unable to pay their last respects.
Imagine that for the brief service only 10 people from the immediate family are allowed to be present — each standing at minimum 6 feet apart from each other and wearing masks.
Imagine going out to the cemetery and waiting until the coffin is buried before the few family members and closest friends can congregate at a distance around the grave site.
Prayers can be made and songs can be sung, but the comfort of clasping hands, hugging, or holding one another up in each other’s sorrow must remain absent.
So too, is removed the last touch and final gaze upon the dearly departed.
In the end, how do we ever truly say goodbye to a loved one for the last time, knowing that it’s beyond forever and through eternity?
Is there really a perfect or right way?
Do we say the words that we’ve always said but differently this time, knowing that we’ll never say them again in person?
Do we look into their eyes one last time in a special way, knowing that we’ll never be able to look into them again?
In the end, no matter the circumstances, parting is never easy and there is never a good way to go through it —especially if the death is sudden and unexpected.
Tess was 91 and died of natural causes, having enjoyed an engaging and fulfilled life.
In a sense, her goodbye, if you can call it that, could be construed as a long one, consisting of laughter and joy and many loving events sprinkled throughout the rich decades of a lifetime.
She gently loved all in her presence, demonstrated through her continuous halo of activities.
There is a deep sadness for us who remain behind, but joyous ecstasy for her at a new place on the continuum, well-
earned for that last extension of perpetuity.
In the end, no kind of farewell will ever be able to capture the fullness of life that will live on in her memory.
The tangibility of her being has transformed into an intangibility of a spiritual presence that will always be with us as we forge the remainder of our paths through physical life.