A Circle of No Good-byes


First-Place Fiction
Grandpa always insisted that good-bye was the wrong thing to say. But it took a grandson to teach him just how right he was.

Derek Rasmussen frantically raced his car down the wooded turnpike. No one had expected the end to come this quickly, least of all Derek, and now he wondered if he could reach his grandfather in time.

He rounded a bend and, approaching the last toll booth before the city, slowed to a stop. It shouldn’t be happening this way, Derek mused as he dug into his front pocket for a quarter and dropped it into the box. When I was little, it seemed like Grandpa would live forever.

Maybe it was the energy and vitality that had filled Grandpa Reilly’s life, but Derek had never been able to imagine his grandfather dying. When his Primary teachers had taught of people living to the age of a tree during the millennium and then being transformed in the twinkling of an eye, Derek had thought of Grandpa Reilly—even though Grandpa wasn’t a member of the Church then.

Derek’s grandfather had never been particularly religious. “Churches do more evil than good,” he had once told Derek. “They’re so full of hypocrites that the good Lord probably couldn’t stand them, much less approve of them. I’ll keep to my own worship, thank you very much,” he said, closing all religious discussion on that note. He tolerated Grandma Reilly’s Catholic faith and even helped her take their children to Christmas and Easter services, but that was as far as his devotion extended.

Perhaps that was why Grandpa objected when his youngest daughter, who was attending a university thousands of miles away in the West, met a returned LDS missionary named Rasmussen and decided to marry him and become a Mormon. He questioned her to determine if her conversion was based upon conviction, rather than upon a whim sparked by her fiance. When it became apparent that her testimony of her new beliefs was firm, he had grudgingly pronounced his blessing upon both the baptism and the marriage.

Grandpa Reilly had given his blessing, but as time passed the Rasmussens were never sure if he completely approved or not. Derek’s parents moved into a country house only a mile away from Grandma and Grandpa Reilly’s rambling farm, and the Rasmussen children spent almost as much time in their grandparent’s home as they did their own. As the children told their grandpa about their normal activities, mention of church activities would inadvertently spring up.

At first nothing came of it, but soon it became apparent that something about the LDS church bothered Grandpa. When any subject relating to the Church was broached, Derek’s grandfather became uncharacteristically silent, and his usual energetic countenance transformed into one of tenseness, almost sorrow. To keep from offending Grandpa Reilly, Derek’s family scrambled to avoid any mention of the Mormon church; with the two missions and a temple marriage that would come even before Derek’s mission, however, it became impossible to be completely quiet about the gospel.

Grandma Reilly died when Derek was 13, and Grandpa knew for perhaps the first time the pangs of sorrow and loneliness. Looking for companionship and understanding, he found in his youngest grandson the quiet, introspective friend that he needed. From that point on he and Derek became inseparable, spending long hours fishing, working on the farm, or sometimes just talking.

Derek had noticed something interesting in the time that he spent with his grandfather: Grandpa Reilly would not say good-bye, no matter what the situation was. When Derek’s mother called him home for dinner at the end of the day, Grandpa always saw him to the door; if Derek said good-bye, his grandfather would gently correct him. “I’ll see you again, so it’s only ‘so long’ for us,” he would say with a smile. “I said good-bye to your grandma when she left, and I don’t plan on saying it again until my time has come, too.” As Derek grew older he saw the logic in it, and soon for him, too, there were no more good-byes.

It was right before Derek’s mission that he began to wonder if he was wrong about Grandpa Reilly’s attitude toward the Church. Derek, who was almost 19, had just graduated from high school and had also received a full-ride scholarship to a prestigious college. The school would not hold his scholarship for the two years that he would be serving a mission, and suddenly he had second thoughts about making that great of a sacrifice for the Lord. Derek had a firm testimony of the gospel’s truthfulness, but could he throw his education and the rest of his life away for the Church?

Derek eventually decided that, realistically, he could not afford to sacrifice his education and career to knock on doors in some far corner of the world for two years. He told his grandfather about his plans first, thinking that Grandpa Reilly would secretly be pleased at the news.

“I’m taking that scholarship, Grandpa,” Derek said. “The time’s not right for a mission.”

“You’re what?” Grandpa demanded. “So what makes you up and decide all of a sudden that you’re not going on a mission?”

“Look, Grandpa,” Derek started to explain patiently, “I know that everyone will be upset, but I have to do what’s best for me. The school won’t hold my scholarship if I serve a mission, and I have to think about the long run.”

“Don’t tell me about the long run!” Grandpa Reilly exploded. “You’re going to regret not going for the rest of your life. A career won’t make much difference then. Don’t think about other people, either. You’re not serving a mission for your father or mother or your bishop or for anyone else; you’re doing it for yourself and the Lord and the people that you teach, and those are the people that count. I may not know much about religion or your church, but I do know that a mission is the best thing that could happen to you, and you’ll be denying yourself the chance of a lifetime if you don’t go.”

Shocked by the unexpectedness and force of his grandfather’s outburst, Derek could do nothing but stare in astonishment. Derek had never known Grandpa Reilly felt that way about the missions his grandsons served. When Derek finally collected his wits enough to further press the matter, Grandpa would say nothing more about the subject.

A week later, Derek sent in his papers and also mailed a letter to the college saying that he had to decline their scholarship so that he could serve a mission. Shortly after he received his mission call to Portugal, the college wrote to inform him that the admissions board would be pleased to reconsider a scholarship offer after his mission.

Grandpa Reilly had never been to one of his grandsons’ missionary farewells before, but at Derek’s invitation he decided to come to this particular farewell—“Just to see what all the fuss is about,” he told his daughters. So when Derek began to speak at the end of the program, he grandfather watched from the fourth row.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank someone who has helped me in more ways than he’ll ever know,” Derek said. “That person is my grandpa Reilly. There isn’t much that I could do to repay him for his help, except to give him my most treasured possession: my testimony of the truthfulness of this gospel.”

Derek had to pause for a few moments because tears were rolling down his cheeks, and he could no longer trust himself to speak. He regained his composure, then cleared his throat and plunged on. “I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that this is the gospel of Jesus Christ and that by following its principles and ordinances, we and our loved ones will be able to return to Heavenly Father and live with him forever. I know of no other truth more simple or precious.”

Then Derek picked up a Book of Mormon. “Because of your advice, Grandpa, I’m going to be teaching the gospel to the Portuguese people. Before I leave, though, I challenge you to read this book. I’d like you to be my first investigator.” Derek noticed that his grandpa, too, was crying.

After the meeting, Grandpa Reilly confided to him, “For 20 years I’ve wanted someone to say that to me, but I was too stubborn to ask for myself. I’m just grateful that I have a grandson who will give me that chance.”

Derek baptized and confirmed his grandfather two weeks later, three days before he entered the Missionary Training Center. Two years later, when he came home from Portugal, he had the privilege of going through the Washington, D.C., temple with his family and seeing Grandpa sealed to Grandma Reilly for time and all eternity. After the ceremony, Grandpa looked over at Derek and smiled. “She approves,” he said, pointing upwards.

It seemed almost as if Grandpa Reilly had willed himself to hold on just long enough for Derek to return from the mission field. Soon after the temple experience Grandpa contracted pneumonia and became seriously ill.

The Rasmussens fasted and prayed for him continually, but it soon became apparent that Grandpa would slip away from them. When Derek’s father gave Grandpa Reilly a priesthood blessing, he could utter no promises of health, just words of comfort that he would not suffer; he also felt a peaceful feeling that all was right, that Grandpa was soon to be reunited with his wife.

Derek had not realized how soon that reunion would be until his mother called to tell him that Grandpa Reilly would probably not live until sunset. Grandpa had asked for Derek as he slipped away from consciousness. Now, as Derek pulled into the parking lot, he could do little but fervently hope that he had made it in time to see his grandfather.

When Derek entered the hospital room, he found his family by Grandpa’s bedside. His breath caught in shock. Derek had not seen Grandpa Reilly in two days, and in that time his grandfather’s countenance had become haggard and thin. Still, when Grandpa opened his eyes and smiled, Derek saw traces of the love for life that had been his grandfather’s most dominant trait.

“Looks like I’ll be heading home pretty soon, Derek,” Grandpa grinned wryly, although it obviously hurt to do so. “You want to wish me a safe trip?” The old man coughed violently, and Derek grimaced at the suffering that his grandfather was enduring.

“You’re not going to die, Grandpa,” Derek blurted out, willing to say anything if it would prolong the inevitable. “We’ll fight this thing together and you’ll get better and …”

“You know as well as I do that I’ve made it as far as I’m going to on this earth,” Grandpa Reilly quietly cut Derek off. “I’m ready to go, and your grandmother misses me. This time, I guess, it really is good-bye.”

When Grandpa said that, though, Derek was touched again by the message that he had taught for two years in Portugal, the message that thousands each year embrace as they come into the Church—that in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ there are no good-byes, not if all the ordinances and covenants are fulfilled. Derek and his grandfather were part of an eternal family now, a family in which good-byes would never be uttered, no matter the duration of the wait between reunions.

Reaching down, Derek cradled his grandfather’s frail hands in his own. “It’s not good-bye, Grandpa, and it never will be,” he whispered fervently. “Good-byes are forever, and I’ll be seeing you again. So long, Grandpa.” As Grandpa Reilly closed his eyes, Derek looked around the room and saw his parents, brothers, and sisters gathered close around him—just a small vision, he thought, of the family circle that would go on forever.

[illustration] Lettering by James Fedor

[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson