Early in Life, We Say Hello. Later in Life, We Say Goodbye.
With a twinkle in my wrinkle, I told Ingrid Summerfield I would remember this day for the rest of my life. We were both in Baja just 17 days before she passed away. Ingrid was the one who taught me the hospitality biz. She was a pioneer in seeing the potential of San Francisco's Hayes Valley.
More than that, she was a beautiful and loving spirit and a great friend. Her breast cancer showed up two years before my prostate cancer diagnosis. She was always a step ahead of me. Yesterday we celebrated her life at the place where I first met her more than 35 years ago, my first hotel, The Phoenix in San Francisco's Tenderloin.
Andy Rooney said, "It's paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn't appeal to anyone." At 64, Ingrid never got old. Just the same, cancer was her bully. Just when she thought she could settle into living in the Palm Orchard with her devoted husband Ron, not far from the MEA campus, she discovered her cancer was spreading throughout her whole body. True to her character, she valiantly showed so many of us how courageous and hopeful we can be until the very end.
Early in life, we learn to say hello to all kinds of new people and experiences. We become incredibly proficient at this, almost to the point of exhaustion. Of course, later in life, we must learn to say goodbye even though it can be excruciatingly difficult. Here are my three lessons about saying goodbye—not just to Ingrid but to a few other friends who made early departures recently:
1. Tell them how much you'll remember this moment (and create a specific moment…a moment can truly be momentous). As evidenced in the Pixar film "Coco," one of our biggest fears is that we’ll be forgotten.
2. Hold their hand (thank you, Vanda, for this advice). Those in the last inning of their life often feel isolated, like they're radioactive. They need touch more than they know it.
3. Memorialize them with a celebration that emphasizes what we can learn from them. We did this for Ingrid on Friday night, which was cathartic for all of us.
Saying goodbye isn't easy. With my heritage, the classic Irish goodbye is slipping out the backdoor when no one notices you've left. However, when someone leaves their mortal armor, we need to ritualize why their time on earth was so important. We all deserve that kind of attention, even if it's painful or awkward.