Saying goodbye is hard to do

Pam O’Meara and her mother, Ruth Henkin, pose for a photo about two weeks before her mother’s death. (submitted photo)

Pamela O’Meara
Review staff

A Winnie-the-Pooh helium balloon, Mr. Potato Head on the dining room table, two small athletic shoes lined up next to mine and pumpkins on the front porch - these are the signs my daughter Karen and 4-year-old granddaughter Katerina were just visiting from Taiwan.

Now they’re back home and I miss them so much. Saying goodbye was hard and I was fighting tears for several days. I don’t know when they’ll be back - perhaps in a year or maybe two.

My granddaughter returned just in time for her preschool Halloween party and Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations: her Taiwanese school director lived in Madison, Wis., for several years and likes American holidays.

After being in Taiwan for two years, Karen came for a visit to see both grandmothers who were in their 90s and having health problems, and because I was about to celebrate a milestone birthday.

The day after Karen and Katerina arrived, my mother had a massive stroke, so the following day we flew to Grand Rapids, Mich. I will be forever grateful that Mom was able to peek open her eyes to recognize Karen and Katerina, say hello, touch Katerina’s soft pink cheek and ask how she was before slowly fading away.

In spite of serious jet lag where days were nights and nights, days, Katerina often stood at her great-grandmother Ruth’s bedside holding her hand, following Karen’s lead.

Along with my two sisters and their daughters, we sat around my mother’s bed, reminiscing and talking to my mother since hospice staff said a person’s hearing is the last cognitive function to go.

Hospice also said to tell Mom goodbye, that we would miss her but that we would all take care of each other and be OK. Over and over we did that, but saying goodbye was really hard.

My niece asked my mother how it felt to have her three daughters with her. “Wonderful!” she answered. And those were her last words.

For the past year, I tried to figure out how to get all my kids together for my birthday - maybe even for a weekend trip - but it wasn’t working out with everyone’s different schedules.

But strangely and sadly, I ended up getting my wish. A week after my birthday, all my kids, grandkids and I spent a weekend in Grand Rapids for Mom’s memorial service. Karen and Katerina got to see all of their relatives on my side, which wouldn’t have happened except for my mother’s death. It was a time of tears and laughter and family bonding, but it was hard to say farewell to everyone at the end of the weekend. We wondered if everyone would ever be together again and decided we needed a family wedding.

Saying goodbye to Karen and Katerina was also hard. Their visit brought so much joy to all of us, and Katerina had such fun playing with her same-age cousin Ella. Karen said she felt they were “bathed in family love” during their visit.

The day before she headed back to Taiwan, her siblings stopped over for one last visit, and Katerina put on a dance show wearing her Halloween fairy costume. One of my sons was the announcer, and we all laughed and had fun.

But heading to the airport was a somber time - hard to let go. I got a gate pass so I could stay with them until they boarded their plane. We had lunch together and watched the planes take off and land.

Then we choked back tears and said goodbye. I left airport in tears, drove to work in tears and then home in tears.

Around the house I found additional signs of their visit, including a Sesame Street toothbrush and forgotten snacks they planned to eat on the plane. The snacks would have come in handy with their Delta flight’s unplanned stop in Seattle for medical help for one passenger and a long overnight in Tokyo as a result. I noticed how my kitchen cupboards were clean and toys organized, thanks to Karen.

I have signs of my mother, too  - a picture on my desk of the two of us about two weeks before she died, her necklaces lined up for my kids to choose, a coffee table dating back to my childhood, a chair with a rose-colored needlepoint seat my grandmother made, the pink fleece bathrobe my sisters and I gave my mother last Christmas, two oil paintings, and letters and snapshots we sent her over the years.

I will feel Mom’s love in all these things, and I will hear her voice telling me not to drive in the dark, to get my bangs cut, not to shop too much but to enjoy traveling while I still can.

I will see and talk to Karen and Katerina on Skype and know that some day they will return to the U.S. But saying goodbye is hard ... whether it’s temporary or permanent.

Pam O’Meara can be reached at or 651-748-7818.

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