Never Good at Good-Bye

Never Good at Good-Bye

From Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

Never Good at Good-Bye

Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you. So carve your name on hearts and not on marble.

C. H. Spurgeon

“Paper or plastic?”

It was a familiar voice I heard at least once a week. His name was Frank, and he bagged groceries for a living in our small one-grocery-store town in rural South Carolina. He was rarely seen without his baseball cap and that crooked smile he wore from ear to ear.

“Plastic is fine.”

That was just the beginning of our conversation during my weekly visits. He, at his own speed, loaded all my groceries in white plastic bags as I waited patiently to follow him out the door. I was very aware of the limp he tried so hard to hide. He was in his late twenties and mildly retarded. During our conversations, he would repeat himself, then laugh. We went to the same church, but when we saw each other there, I never said much more than hello. It was during my trips to the grocery store where we shared the most time.

I was amazed at the social calendar Frank kept. I knew he was always faithful to our church; there was never a time he wasn’t there. He told me of trips to the local YMCA and baseball games he wouldn’t miss. Once all my groceries were in the car, he would linger in the parking lot until finally he would give me a bear hug that almost knocked me down! Frank never was good at good-bye. I’d kiss him on the cheek and promise to see him on Sunday.

One hot, summer morning, I made my weekly trip to the grocery store, but as soon as I walked into the building, I could sense something terribly wrong. Instead of the morning “hellos” and cheerful clerks, all I saw were heads hung low and many crying. I immediately looked for Frank, knowing he would tell me what was going on. I didn’t see him bagging groceries, so I assumed he was stocking the shelves. I went down every aisle looking for him. As I stood at the last aisle, my heart beat fast and my throat tightened. I quietly walked to a small office in the back, and I saw an older man with his head down on his desk, weeping. I put my hand on his back to comfort him, and in between his sobs, I heard a shrill, “Oh, Frank!”

My dear friend Frank had drowned on a fishing trip. My heart had never experienced such sadness. I wanted to tell the world how this young man had lifted my spirits on so many rainy days.

On the afternoon of his funeral, I went to support his family even though we had never met. I didn’t expect many people to be there because Frank was a simple man. As I pulled into the parking lot of my church, I was stunned because I could barely find a parking spot.

Once I walked into the church, I got the last seat in the last row. I heard ushers behind me telling other anxious people there was an overflow section in another part of the building. It was very obvious people around me were thinking the same thing. Why were there so many here for Frank’s funeral? It’s as if we are burying a famous person or political leader. Half an hour later than the funeral was scheduled to begin, and after everyone was finally seated, the pastor rolled up his sleeves and slowly walked up to the pulpit. He stood there, silently, as if trying to gain his composure. Tears fell down his face, and just as he was about to speak, someone two rows up stood. He was a tall, burly man; he must have stood over six feet tall.

“I would just like to say, Frank came into my store three days a week with a bucket and some soap. He cleaned my bathrooms until they shined, and he would never take a red cent. I won’t forget him.” He sat down, not trying to hide the tears.

And then someone else rose. It was an elderly lady who stood with a cane.

“Every time I went to the grocery store, Frank would put this little paper into my bag.” Out of her purse she pulled a little tattered card. “It always said thank you for being so kind.”

A young boy, not much taller than the pew he stood in front of, proudly said, “Frank went to every one of my baseball games whether I played or not.”

Story after story was repeated that day. The funeral lasted more than four hours, and many people still lingered, waiting to honor the memory of such a remarkable man. Frank’s family had no idea of the life he had led; he was just a “good son,” his mother and father said. Many of us there that day were changed forever.

Frank never was good at good-bye, but that day he outdid himself.

Amanda Dodson

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