The Long Goodbye

This past week has been one of goodbyes. As one goodbye piled upon another, I began to pay attention. I was reminded of a piece I wrote with another writer years ago called, “The Long Goodbye,” a wife’s farewell to her husband who lived more in the realm of Alzheimer’s and less in their sixty year marriage. For me, “The Long Goodbye” was always more about living than moving into another realm of existence.


Nowhere is that truer than at an animal sanctuary where I’ve been a volunteer for the last four years. Mostly, I send out monthly updates to animal sponsors–it’s easy and fun–I relay stories and pictures of animal antics, always a welcome email. As the sanctuary is for elderly and medically needy animals, goodbye is often on the horizon. At times, goodbye is said so often it is hard to catch one’s breath.

In the past two days, three sanctuary residents crossed the Rainbow Bridge, one goodbye after another. Two of the residents were elderly canines, Snapper and Rocky, and the other was a very human-friendly rabbit, Dudley. For the remainder of their lives, the sanctuary provided them the security of home, a daily routine they came to trust. Lives regained. No matter how long or short their stay at the sanctuary, each of their lives ended in arms of love. Would that every one of us lived a life with such a long goodbye.


As I have learned from Dr. Mac and the residents of the sanctuary, the long goodbye is unique to each and every being. On the very morning the long goodbyes played out at the sanctuary, Cooper reminded me the  moment looms for us as well.  Like his friends at the sanctuary, Cooper lives in the moment, devoted to routine. For now, he is still willing to accommodate the physical changes his body is undergoing but he will let me know when the end of the long goodbye is here. There won’t be much notice, just enough. Until then, we go on as if life has always been this way, and after a while, we believe what we tell ourselves.

For some time, Cooper and I have been witnessing a long goodbye between a woman and a canine that live in our apartment complex. Alice has Alzheimer’s and her hair is white just like Buddy’s, her West Highland Terrier. In the two years we’ve known them, the two have been the best of friends but for a while now, Alice hasn’t been able to remember their routine. While Buddy does his best to remind Alice, Alice remembers routines with other Westies. Buddy does his best to keep up.


We learned that Alice and Buddy are moving, and while we know it’s a fact, the actual date is never mentioned. At first, Alice told us that all of her sons were moving as well and the whole family would be living in the same state. First it was Colorado and then it was Connecticut but now the most frequent moving destination is an assisted living center in a small Florida town not too far away from us.

Of course, none of these moves involve Buddy living with Alice anymore. Alice’s sons have dogs of their own, and they seem genuinely fond of Buddy and he of them. He is a fairly young dog, smart, but he has had to fend for himself a lot lately, and he is not as trusting as he once was. Buddy and Alice have done the best they can for each other but the change they face may not involve a long goodbye, at least with one another.


I am reminded that the long goodbye is not a guarantee but a gift as I re-read the sponsor updates of Snapper with her tennis balls, of Rocky’s kiddie pool antics and his chomping at the hose water trying to fill his pool. Even little Dudley felt safe again after what seemed a hopeless situation. I cannot know what will be for Alice and Buddy but the long goodbye is often the reward of a life regained.

(AWARDS: Recently, this blog received some awards exchanged among bloggers, and I am humbled. Thank you, fellow bloggers. It is a true honor to have one’s work appreciated by one’s peers.)

12 thoughts on “The Long Goodbye

  1. I love the elegance you write into your posts, especially posts such as this one, dealing with such a heartbreaking subject. Dealing with the loss of pets is very traumatic, both for the pet and the owner. While I don’t go to the extent of believing that my pets are equal with my human family, they still hold a very special place in my heart.

    Just last week, my wife and I discovered one of our neighborhood cats that had died in our front yard. It looked to be a peaceful death, but tragic nonetheless. Without tags, we were unable to find out who the owner might be, if she had one at all, and were not able to give her owner the ending he or she might have wanted, which was sad for us. However, this was, at least, not the difficulty of the long goodbye, as we learned later that the cat was still young and vibrant, and the death came as a shock to them.

    I’m not sure which is worse, the sudden unexpected death, or the long goodbye, but I would wager that the long goodbye takes its toll, and working in an animal sanctuary doubly so, with the frequency of these events. My heart goes out to you, and I will pray for you.


    1. Hi, Mike!

      Dr. Mac and the sanctuary residents are really quite extraordinary, aren’t they? When the goodbyes come one after another, momentarily it does take its toll as you and the others have commented, but ultimately, the long goodbye seems to hold the hope of life regained first in this realm and then beyond.

      Thanks you for your kind words regarding my writing and glad you enjoy the posts.



  2. You have such a knack for poignant posts, Karen. Thank you for working with animals, and sharing your takeaways with us. The photos and stories you’ve shared are priceless!

    I’ve been working on a project involving Alzheimer’s disease prevention, and I have to say—some of the saddest goodbyes take place while we’re still physically living…

    So glad you shared this again. It would be sad to have missed it.


    1. Hello, August!

      I’m so glad you enjoy the stories of Dr. Mac and the sanctuary residents as I agree it would be sad not to know of these wonderful lives. Clearly, they have captured my heart. Alzheimer’s is certainly a reminder that we may live past saying goodbye to all we loved and that, as you say, is the saddest of goodbyes.

      Thanks for the lovely compliment and kind words, August.



  3. A person has to be brave to appreciate the long goodbye, one without hope that goodbye is just a temporary glitch, that everything will be as it was before if we wait the present bad situation out.

    What always strikes me is the way we go on after even the most crushing goodbye. Life has a tendency to continue to walk forward, no matter what. I find this encouraging.


    1. Yes, Adrian, oh yes. The courage that is the everyday life of the sanctuary is what have written so beautifully. Thank you for that. Life does move forward always and therein lies the hope that I believe is inherent in the long goodbye.



    1. Hi, Laura!
      Truly, I only send out e-mails and provide a little administrative assistance but it is an honor to be associated with Dr. Mac and the sanctuary. I always enjoy my visits and it is a joy to know these animals have a permanent home to live out their lives.



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