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December 1, 2011

Parting Words that Keep Us Connected

The following essay could as easily be called a prose poem. I draw a great deal of comfort from Noreen's piece. It is wise comfort--comfort purchased, so to speak, comfort well-earned. I hope other readers will draw comfort from it, too. 

Never Say Good-bye
By Noreen Braman

Believing that you never say "good-bye" to someone you intend to see again, generations of Celtic women refused to bid their men farewell or even to watch their retreating figures.

It was a tradition my Irish/Scottish mother believed in wholeheartedly. As children we were constantly reminded to only say “so long” to family and friends. Mom never failed to correct me if I yelled “good-bye” as I was on my way out. It was her way of protecting me.

Mom had good reason to want to guard us from mishap; her own life had been full of illness and tragic loss. The sense of impending doom never left her even after years of peaceful living.

As I grew older, she descended deeper and deeper into an alcoholic haze. Sometimes she would come out of it for a while, get a job or clean the house. On other occasions, she would confide in me some of the terrors she had endured as the child of a drunken, abusive father.

In later years, she seemed to rally, going out and making friends. I was happy for the improvement, yet our relationship was clouded with hostile feelings. But even when our conversations were strained, she never failed to correct me if I told her “good-bye” over the phone.

Years of drinking and a bout with the flu took their toll, Mom died. Dad found her in bed, her hand held to her chin as if she were lost in thought, her eyes staring at some unknown vision. Her frail body looked much older than 56.

The family tried desperately to sort out the emotions. No one had expected Mom to die just like that, not without some warning, some mending of past hurts. We tried to get Dad in for counseling, but couldn't stop the self-destructive binge that brought his own death only four months later.

My sister and I stood in the emergency room, silent and disbelieving. We had arrived too late to see him alive. I wanted to shout at Dad's lifeless body, “How could you let this happen?” I felt abandoned and alone. My parents’ deaths seemed so unfair, leaving my sisters and me to carry around burdens of guilt and unresolved emotion.

But it was in my mother’s old Celtic superstition that I was able to find comfort. Never having had the chance to say “good-bye” felt almost like a blessing as I realized it meant that I would see my parents again. Like the Celtic women of old, I refuse to watch their shadows fade off into the horizon. 

Instead, I close my eyes, picture them in my own version of heaven and say, “So long, Mom and Dad, I'll be seeing you.”

© 1999 Noreen Braman
Noreen Braman is a writer and designer from New Jersey whose work often focuses on her own personal experiences. Her most recent book is Treading Water. More information about her can be found at her Website.


  1. A very difficult piece to read, especially for the son of Irish immigrants, one of whom, sober as a judge, drove the other to drink with constant hectoring. Liquor and the Celts are a bad combination. The best thing I ever did was quit drinking the day that I got married. Now I only worry about cholesterol from too many milkshakes.

  2. Greetings! That's part of what I like so much about Noreen's piece. It does come from a difficult place ... and takes us to "so long," which has a gentle sound to it and lifts us to a gentler place. Kudos to you for stopping the liquid spirits. Too many good lives have been robbed by those beverages. And well, just think about all the good calcium you get from those milkshakes!

  3. Very moving. We have the same saying in Hindi and Urdu languages in India: "Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna" which means Never say Good Bye. Also, people with old ways of thinking still reprimand children when they say goodbye while leaving for school, college or office. They correct them and teach them to say: "I will go and come back". How true:) But in today's fast changing values and practices, goodbye is a much abused word. Thanks Ysabel for introducing me to Noreen's writing. The pain is so live in these words. May God give you the strength to move ahead in life -- gaining from the strength of your parents' love.

  4. This is yet more proof of how much we all share as human beings. I may not be pronouncing it right, but when I say Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna to myself, it sounds beautiful and reassuring. You are so right that we have come to abuse the word Good bye, but what is more, we have come to treat parting and goodbyes in a casual, hasty way. Sometimes, I guess this protects us from the pain of parting. On the other hand, it disconnects us from the continuity of life, whether the people we bid goodbye to live in another country, or just going to the store down the street, or have moved on to the next life. Thank you for sharing the Hindi and Urdu phrases.

  5. What a wonderful thing to hear, that this tradition is universal - and comforting in many cultures. namaste!

  6. I knew Noreen as a young girl, and I remember both of her parents. I really liked her Mother a lot. I'm sorry for them, that they passed from this life to the next so quickly, and so close together. I happened to come to read this today, not knowing what I would find, and loved this little true story. Today, my own Mother had very serious Cancer surgery, and my dear Father has inoperable Cancer as well. Both at the same time. I understand your grief, mine knowing there is a little time left for both, that I can say, "I'll be seeing you".

    God bless you, Noreen.
    Your old friend,