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It's OK to let go and say goodbye

In Hays and all across the country in the next few weeks, students will be graduating from high school and college and entering new phases in their lives. Some young people -- and their parents -- can't wait for that to happen. Others are not so sure.

There is an old saying that goes something like this: The first steps a child takes are toward his parents. Then, after the little one is safe in the parent's arms, looking up into the delighted face of the mother or father, the child turns around and starts taking a few wobbly steps the other way. The parent laments, "Every step they take after that is away from you."

The family unit is changed with every major step in a child's life that takes him or her further from the parents' safety and protection.

It's not easy on either party. But, I am here to tell you it's OK to let go and say goodbye.

When my mother was diagnosed with final-stage pancreatic cancer, I had been a widow of four months. My mother had been a widow for six years.

Mother was always a very matter-of-fact person. After the initial shock of her diagnosis wore off, she immediately began to make plans for her "departure."

"I want to make all these decisions myself now, before I get so sick I can't," she told me.

From her hospital bed, she told me what I was to do with her belongings, what outfit she wanted to be dressed in, what songs she wanted sung, and how she wanted her obituary to read.

There was only one thing she waffled on: Did she want the doctors to place her on aggressive chemotherapy? She tried one dose, and her body tolerated it well. Still she hesitated.

Both her doctor and the hospital chaplain took me aside. "She is worried about you," they told me. "She doesn't want you to be left alone." She had shared with them that my only sibling had died when we were kids, and my husband and I had no children.

I shook my head when they told me these things. I had already told her I would be fine. I had already told her I wanted her to decide what kind of treatment she wanted. What could I do to reassure her that she did not need to go through chemo just for me?

She and I were having this discussion once again one Sunday afternoon. "You are so young to be left all alone," she told me. "You need someone to take care of you."

I searched for the right words, something that would make it OK for her to leave me. Then I remembered the story she had told me my whole life.

"I do have someone, Mother. I have God. He has always taken care of me, and he always will."

Now I was the one relating the familiar tale -- how when I was six months old, I had become seriously ill. I was rushed by ambulance to a big hospital in another city.

There the nurses swept me into a big room full of tiny cribs, and for many, many days, my parents were not allowed to hold me or even come near me. They could only stand outside the room, watching helplessly through a big two-way mirror as the staff cared for me. How they prayed that God would save their little baby.

Finally, I turned the corner, and a few days later I was able to come home.

"Remember how you told me that you prayed to God?" I asked her. "You said you asked him to take care of me, no matter what -- whether he took me to heaven to be with him or left me here with you and Daddy. He answered your prayer then, and he is still answering your prayer."

I hugged her gently. "God will always take care of me. I will be fine."

A few days later she was gone. Of course, I had lied. None of us is ever truly "fine" after losing our mom. But we go on, nonetheless. We hold tight to the wonderful memories, and we tell ourselves we're going to be OK.

Because God is always going to take care of the people we love -- no matter where they are or how far away.

Knowing that, it's OK to let go and say goodbye.

Linn Ann Huntington is a longtime

journalism educator who

lives and works in Hays.