An honest goodbye

Posted in: Real life

When I started last week's blog post with "I shouldn't have been at McDonalds", I meant to continue by writing about what happened when I went to McDonald's. Instead, I went on to explain why I shouldn't really have been there in the first place, and by the time I wanted to return to my original intent, I already had a blog post written. So I left it at that, and waited until I had some more time to continue, which I do now.

I took my meal, a Big Mac Combo, and sat down at a bench against a street-facing window. 2 seats to my left was an old lady who, as soon as I started eating, started talking to me.

I didn't find it annoying or anything because I've become a bit used to it by now. Either the elderly are a bit more fond of talking to strangers, or they're very fond of talking to me, and over the years I've come to have some expectation that if I sit near old people, a conversation will ensue. (Yes, a conversation, because I like to listen and talk back with them - maybe it's a 'respect your elders' politeness switch that turns on in these situations.)

Her name was Chrissie (she said that's what people end-up calling her anyway, so I'm guessing it might be a nickname or a shortened version of her name), and she had Italian parents, was raised in Scotland, and was close to her 90th birthday. I think she came to New Zealand because her "wee boys" (3 sons, all around 60 years old. I joked back to her about how her "wee boys" are all old enough to be my parents) started to worry about her.

(Funny, I said, that when you're younger your parents always worry about you, but as your parents age you start to worry about them. She thought so too, because after 1 bad fall at her own place, her boys made her sell her house and come live closer to them so they could keep an eye on her.)

She was one of 13 children - and had so many stories to tell about her brothers and sisters, and a lot to say about her ex-husband too - and of all the stories she told me, they seemed to revolve around smoking. When Chrissie was younger, she and her husband were smokers. They both tried to quit at one time, but around the time she succeeded in quitting when her husband didn't, he left her. No, he didn't die then, although he's dead now, but it left her quite heart-broken. What struck me though, wasn't the story of her heart-break, but the way in which she talked about her husband like she talked about many of her brothers and sisters, many of whom have passed-away.

The way she casually said, "oh, he's/she's dead now" felt like it was so familiar and practised to her, and it shouldn't have been a surprise to me - here was a woman who has lived almost 90 years, so plenty of the people who made up her life would be dead and gone by now. She also talked about her brother who was in the hospital, a smoker, with throat cancer, like it was just another simple fact. The way she brushed-off these statements felt like the way I or someone my age now says, "oh, they're married now", or, "oh, they've got kids now".

When she saw I had finished my meal and said she'll not hold me up any longer, we exchanged names, then she raised her coffee cup and said, "Goodbye Emanuel." Unlike her casual "he's dead / she's dead" speak, the 'goodbye' carried with it so much weight and meaning: goodbye because it's unlikely we'll see each other again; goodbye because the reason we'll not see each other again is that she might not have many more years left in her; goodbye and good luck on the rest of my life because I've got a lot more ahead of me.

It was the goodbye of someone who has lived, and the most honest goodbye I have ever received.

In response, I grabbed by cup of coke and we toasted to goodbye.

So I stood up and continued with my errands for the day, leaving her to continue with hers (going to the nearby Bunnings hardware store to see if they have any good magnifying glasses - her current one which she uses to assist her reading, isn't as good as it used to be because her eyes are getting worse).

As is often the case, Chrissie left me with some classic life advice: don't smoke. I told her I'm doing very well on that one so far :)