For Annie and me, this developmental transition is marked in lots of ways, but the biggest one is that we no longer spend the whole class together. Dad makes a cameo for some imagining and sung introductions at the outset, says goodbye, reads Garrison Keillor poetry anthologies to himself in the church's parish hall, and is summoned back to the room at the end by the children's singing, just in time to see what the children have learned and join in the goodbye song.
As you can imagine, this "parent-exits-stage-right" maneuver does not go over really well with all of the kids, especially the first few times. So, at an early parent-only meeting, our teacher encouraged each of us to develop a goodbye ritual with our children, to make the transition easier. We were invited to have the conversation with our children in anticipation of the moment and to seek their input around the question, "How will we say goodbye?"
The routine itself was all up to us, but Miss Amy asked that whatever we come up with include three things:
- eye-to-eye contact
- repetitive words or song
So a couple of nights ago, I broached the topic with Annie. I explained that I wouldn't be staying in the Kindermusik class for the whole time this year, and that Miss Amy had invited us to talk about how we would like to say goodbye to each other each week. Annie took the news in stride, and our goodbye ritual came together pretty easily, riffing largely off of our already-established "good night" routine, with some material borrowed from our "have a good day at school" routine. I touch her forehead, trace the sign of the cross, and say, "Thank you, Jesus, for Annie. Amen." I kiss her head. And then I add, "Good bye. I love you. Be yourself." Annie added a fist bump at the end.
And maybe it's because I am approaching the anniversary of my Granny's death - September 16 - and I remember how hard it was for either of us to name that it might be goodbye, much less to talk about how we wanted to say it - but I have been reflecting a lot today about the gift it is to be invited to ask, "How will we say goodbye?"
I take it as significant that the question is plural. Not "How will I say goodbye?", but "How will we?" Because we are talking to each other. Not building an abstract theory, but living a concrete relationship.
Of course, death does not always afford us opportunities for the goodbyes we would choose. But then, most people choose not to think about their deaths in the first place, which is to forfeit the possibility of conversations like, "How will we say goodbye?" altogether. People today pray for swift, sudden, and painless deaths. People in other ages prayed for holy deaths - can today's generations make sense of such a prayer? - with opportunities for just these kinds of good closures.
How will we say goodbye?
I pray that I get to - that God would grant me a holy death. That Annie and I will have the chance to talk about it beforehand, too. I pray I remember Miss Amy's three rules: touch, eye-contact, and repetitive words or song. Of course, I want Annie's input, but I can imagine something not unlike our newly minted Kindermusik dance: a hand on the the forehead, a small cross traced. "Thank you, Jesus, for Annie/Daddy. Amen." A kiss on the head. "Good bye. I love you. And can we sing the 'Alleluia' song?"