Saying Goodbye:Trying to explain grief

Yesterday I learned of the sudden death of someone I used to know. It came as a shock and brought tears to my eyes. I can’t stop thinking about him and how indescribably sad I feel about the fact that he is no longer on earth with us.

I hadn’t seen Tom in years, but I’d worked with him on several occasions at speed skating competitions, and shared drinks with him and others at the out-of-town competitions we’d both attend. He always had a joke, calling me his “favourite hippie”. I never knew why he called me a hippie, but it didn’t matter. He was my favourite referee. If I’d called him my favourite red-neck he would have laughed, but honestly, I never thought of him that way.

I’m trying to remember the last time I saw Tom, and I really can’t. I had tapered off my speed skating volunteering after our son graduated and left the sport, for that year and a half we were still in Calgary. I’d hardly volunteered at all in the few months before I knew we were moving, so I’m sure I didn’t tell my speed skating buddies that I was leaving. I wish I had. There are so many people to whom I wish I’d said goodbye. I always expected to be working another meet and seeing everyone again. My timing hasn’t worked out that way.

I think of some of my timing buddies, and how I may not see them again. I wish I’d known the last time I saw them that I would be leaving the country. Or do I? Would that have created too much sadness on our last happy meeting of timing soul mates? Had I known the last time I saw Tom that it would be the last time, would we have shared as many laughs? Would I feel better now if I’d at least had a chance to say, “Hey, we’re moving to the Caribbean. It’s been an honour to work with you!”?

Coordinating a speed skating competition involves months of planning and preparation, emails and phone calls and meetings. The weekend of the meet is long and potentially stressful and used to leave me feeling totally wiped out. Yet I loved working those meets with the people I came to think of as the “dream team”. Tom was a key member of the dream team. I don’t coordinate meets anymore. I don’t volunteer at speed skating, because it hasn’t worked out that I’m ever around for a meet. I still think of Tom and smile. He made the day go faster, both literally and figuratively. He was an efficient ref, keeping things moving quickly. He was also a joy to be around, making my day fly by. I hope he knew that.

He wasn’t my husband, father, brother or step dad. I considered him a friend, although he wasn’t someone who would drop by for coffee or call us up for a drink. That may have been different if he’d lived in the same city. We did have many coffees and drinks together when we were in the same place for speed skating. He wasn’t someone with whom we kept in touch. ¬†Yet I still feel the loss, and tears are streaming down my cheeks as I write.

His memorial is next week, and I’m here and can’t attend. If our daughter wasn’t coming to visit I might even consider making the trip to Canada. I know that memorials and funerals give people closure. I can’t be there, so writing about him and what he meant to me gives me closure.

Goodbye Tom. The world will miss you. I feel sorry for the meet coordinators who will never get to work with you. I’m sorry for your wife and daughters and stepson and grandchildren. I’m glad I got to know you a little bit. Tonight at happy hour, instead of the usual cocktail or wine, I’ll have a beer and say goodbye to you once more.

From your favourite hippie.