Tomorrow night, The Tragically Hip plays its final gig in the band’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario. The band’s lead singer, Gord Downie, has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
This is the best way to say goodbye.
Who wants to stand alone over some patch of highly-manicured lawn filled with stone tablets and have our tears of sorrow trickle down into the uncaring ground for a memory of a man who can no longer hear your words of loss and pain?
Wouldn’t it be so much better to be standing shoulder to shoulder with others on some dusty checkered-board floor filled with wooden tables and weep tears of joy onto the beer-stained ground for a man who can hear your cheers of love and appreciation?
Why do we wait until it’s too late to say goodbye, to say thank you for all you have done for us, to say we love you for giving us some music at work and for being a part of our lives?
Funerals and wakes and celebrations of a past life: sure, that’s one way to say goodbye.
But if the unknown is more clearly known, if the inevitability of death is coming sooner than later, why not include the soon-to-be dearly departed into his own celebration of life?
We can enjoy his art and his artistic soul together, face to face, our voices screaming back at him over his own amplified voice, our little bones moving and our butts wigglin to the rhythms and rhymes he and his bandmates created for us.
And when it is over, we, each of us, can have something good to hang on to for decades to come. When we look back at his life from wherever we are – be it Attawapiskat or Bobcaygeon – we won’t think so much of the pain of his absence, we won’t think we are so hard done by, as we will think of the joy of having been together, fully and completely, at a time when we needed to say goodbye to each other.
It will be hard for some of us. It’s always easier to say goodbye to someone who isn’t here anymore. It’s much easier to say ‘We love you’ when you’re not looking into each other’s eyes.
It takes courage to say goodbye together. But I’m sure we’ll do it in a most Canadian way Saturday night; we’ll say goodbye with compassion and caring, with great soul, and probably tired as fuck.
And we’ll do it with grace, too.