This Is Not Goodbye

Words are hard, sometimes.

This may seem an odd statement from one who has built her entire life around words, but it is true. The deepest emotions and thoughts, the truest truths, are often too hard to put into words.

This is one reason I love music; it reaches the places words cannot go. And it is what leads me to poetry more and more, the older I get—for poetry is a music of its own, the attempt of wordsmiths to capture things too deep for prose.

My great-aunt died unexpectedly on Sunday. It was a hard blow to everyone—her immediate family, of course, but to the entire extended family and community, as well. She was special, a rare soul in this busy world. When Grandma’s mind became completely clouded by Alzheimer’s, Aunt Ortha quietly stepped in, attending all our—her sister’s grandchildren—major events. “I’m not trying to take her place,” she told me at my bridal shower, “But I’m here because she would be, and can’t be.” She didn’t want us to feel bereft.

And that’s one memory. Her own children and grandchildren can tell so many more. Her church family. The people in the community she served so faithfully. She shed love like a radiance, practical love that saw what it could do and then did it without any fuss.

Her memorial service is today, and I wanted oh, so much, to be there to honor her. But I can’t. It was too short of notice, and we live too far away to make it. My dad, sharing that same quiet, loving wisdom as his aunt had (and indeed, all of Grandma’s family), suggested to me that I write her a poem instead, since I can’t be there.

Poetry is hard, as I’ve bemoaned on Twitter before. But it also satisfies in a way prose cannot. I wrote a poem for my grandfather after his death, and it helped—me in the writing of it, others in the family in the reading. So it was a gift, to myself, to Aunt Ortha, and to the family, to be able to wrestle with these oh-so-inadequate words, and shape them into something that captures the outlines, at least, of what my heart feels.

This Is Not Goodbye

Louise Bates

I will not say goodbye today
Because you are not truly gone
We see your face in so many here
Your heart in even more.
Your smile, your eyes, the family traits
Those you have passed down
But more—and far greater:

Your kindness, your warmth, your wisdom
The way you were first to help
A pair of hands for whatever was needed
A loving heart and listening ear
Your ready laugh and constant smile.

Those have not died, for they are immortal
Living on in the lives of all you touched.
And if they’ve lived on—
Then so have you.
So I will not say goodbye today.
I will smile through the tears
And look for you in the people you loved.

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