No Time to Say Goodbye


Recently I had the opportunity to be on a cruise ship. One morning at breakfast a woman who I knew was travelling alone, that I had seen in the dining room and spoken with before, sat down at the next table. After saying “good morning” I asked: “how are you.”

“Angry, I just want to leave this cruise.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, what happened?” I inquired.

“My grandson was in his last year of college, and his girlfriend broke up with him. He was very upset, and I suggested that he speak with a counsellor. A few days ago  his father called and told me the news: he killed himself.” She started to cry, and I could feel myself tear up.  As a retired psychotherapist, I knew not to give advice, just listen.

We spoke for a while, and she told me that he was a smart young man, whose ambition was to become a US navy officer. She wanted to fly home immediately from the next port, but her son said: “Please mom don’t take this wrong, but you would just be in the way; there is so much to do. Please stay on the ship.”

She said ” I’m not a religious person, I don’t believe in God, so I have no platitude to fall back on.” The word ‘platitude’ struck me as her way of describing what I call ‘faith.’ While listening I very much felt Christ’s presence telling me that this was a sacred moment where I was being asked to just be present, as one human being to another who is in pain. I told her anytime she wanted to talk, I would be there.

I remembered a book about suicide entitled “No Time to Say Goodbye.” It was written for families and loved ones who are struggling. I certainly wasn’t going to glibly suggest reading a book, when she was in extreme grief. But I also remembered the words a priest friend said years ago: “When someone we love dies, sometimes the symbols of faith are the only thing that seems meaningful.”

For the rest of that day, and the next, I thought of our conversation and prayed that she would find support and love to manage her grief in this unique situation of being alone on a cruise ship, with only the kindness of strangers to make a difference. It is in moments of extreme suffering of either myself or others, that I know in the depth of my being, there is a God and we are loved.

John Montague earned his Master of Divinity from Regis College, University of Toronto. He is an active member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. He has a Master of Social Work, and, until his retirement, provided counselling to individuals, couples, and families. For seventeen years he organized a Day of Reflection for Catholic parents of lesbian daughters, gay sons, and transgendered children.

  • Peter Bisson SJ
    Posted at 07:25h, 30 April Reply

    Thank you John!

  • Lorella D'Cruz
    Posted at 07:58h, 30 April Reply

    A very moving story. We can only guess what drives a tortured soul to take his or her own life. I have just said a prayer for your fellow traveller and her family, and trust they find consolation in the understanding and kindness of friends and acquaintances like yourself. “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

  • Michelle Kotak
    Posted at 11:02h, 30 April Reply

    Thank you for an important reminder: LISTEN…PRESENCE…HOLD BACK ON ADVICE.

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