My family practices a neurotic ritual. When we leave after a visit to each other's houses, we spend a solid 10 minutes saying goodbye.
"Goodbye" has to be the absolute last thing said just before the door shuts -- shouted through the crack in the slowly closing door, if possible.
This farewell can take many forms -- "see you later," "bye-bye," "later, dude." We will utter these and other variations in the kitchen before I leash the dog, in the hallway on the way to the door, and finally, I'll scream it from the bottom of the steps just before I leave. Meanwhile, the dog is pleading with me to hurry up.
It's the same when my husband goes to work -- I have to say goodbye at the door. Hollering it from the next room is not good enough. In his case, the goodbye must be accompanied by a kiss and an "I love you." So when someone just leaves without that important goodbye, I feel uneasy. Where did so-and-so go? I don't know, he just left! He didn't even say goodbye! Oh, the horror! Some people in my family practice the clandestine exit. One minute they're in the house and the next, they're gone!
I wouldn't say that my family is comprised of pessimists, but we're realistic. My mother never hid anything from me or my sister: We watched sex scenes and violence in movies growing up and were exposed to the news. Mom always told us the world was unfair. Sure, she didn't expose us to every horror. She's not a maniac. But we didn't grow up believing life was made up of rainbows, unicorns and fun slides.
In other words, I always knew that the people we love can be taken from us at any time. All of us assume that when our loved one leave for the day, they'll come back. Most of the time, they do. But not always.
I've always remembered a story told by a teen on "Oprah." She got into a fight with her father over something stupid and she screamed at him: "I hate you." They were the last words she ever spoke to him -- he died shortly after.
I'm not trying to be morbid. This is a lesson about appreciation. If you recognize that your loved ones will not always be there, you'll appreciate them a lot more. If you remember that someday, your beloved husband will no longer be around, would you nag him incessantly about leaving his dirty socks on the bedroom floor? Someday, you may miss those socks.
It's a hard reality that we have to accept death is a part of life. But death can be a good thing. It illuminates the difference between the important and the trivial. Death reminds us that we should express our love for each other and let the little things go. And that we should appreciate each other every day.
When my sister and I were young, maybe 10 and 7, we got into a fight, as sisters tend to do. Heartsick that her daughters were bickering, my mother laid down some harsh truth.
"You better get along with each other because someday, we'll be gone and you'll only have each other."
It's sad, but true. Why waste the days we have together fighting? Always making sure to say goodbye is a way to say I love you, I appreciate you, and I can't wait to see you again.
JH Mae is a Banner columnist.