Time to Say Good-bye

English: Varanasi, India as seen from Ganga river.

When we left India, back in May 2007, we left with the idea that we would return. I’m not sure we really said goodbye.

But our story changed.

Even after we made the decision to not return to India, our best friends, Steve & Ellen, strongly suggested that we go back to India to say a proper good-bye. They said it for the sake of our souls. They said it for love of our children. They based it on many other families they’ve known whose children have been deeply affected by such a sudden and thorough uprooting.

Saying good-bye is important.

I had the opportunity to say goodbye when I accompanied four friends from Kansas to Varanasi in 2008. Lowell had that opportunity when he made the grueling trek back to sort out our belongings (with the invaluable help of my parents and the community there!) in 2009. But our kids have never had that chance.

It’s been on my heart for several years now but the timing has never seemed right. However, as Lowell and I have talked and prayed we think maybe now it’s time! This year, if we can afford it, we’d like to take the kids back to India to visit! Our plan is to take them out of school in December. We’ll visit some of our old favourite places. We’ll eat some of our old favourite foods at old favourite restaurants! We’ll visit our old home, the place where Connor and Bronwynn were born, we’ll visit old friends, we’ll see the kid’s school.

We told the kids this plan on Christmas Eve. With three personalities we got three vastly different responses. All three reactions reinforced that it seems to us to be a good thing to make this return trip.

Bronwynn squealed with delight. She jumped up and down. She’s our child who struggles to remember India and it troubles her. Somehow she knows it’s an important part of her identity but she can’t remember. Hearing the news she was thrilled!

Adelaide is our planner. She craves order and organization. When she heard the idea she immediately wanted details. When would we leave? When would we return? How will this affect her GPA? What about her December finals? Did we already have tickets?

Connor, who most solidly spent half his childhood there was the most difficult to discern. He was laying on the floor. He turned on his side and went silent. Soon tears started to flow down his cheeks. When we pressed him to understand his emotional response he said, “I don’t know if I can handle India again.” Lowell and I cried with him. What stresses does Connor still carry?    How much of our own burnout and depression—the things that drove us from India–was transferred to his small shoulders and soul?

Certainly Lowell will have work to do while we’re there. But admittedly and unashamedly, our main reason for returning to say goodbye is for our Connor, Adelaide and Bronwynn.

Their stories demand a closing chapter on India! Their souls matter and it seems an important trip to make for their sakes. They need to say good-bye.

A Post Script: Connor came to me two or three weeks after we initially told him about the trip and said, “I think I can do it mom. I think I’m ready to face India again,” he hesitated a moment before continuing with a grin, “And I’m going to eat all the Tandoori Chicken I want and you’re not going to stop me!”

18 thoughts on “Time to Say Good-bye

  1. This brought tears to my eyes. It’s been 25 years since we abruptly left Papua New Guinea, and we didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye to anyone. And I’ve had the means to go back and visit, but have instead traveled to other regions of the world: it just is too much to face by myself… too great a burden to bear. And somehow, in my imagination, I assumed I’d do it if I got married and could bring my spouse along. Now in my 40s and single, it is unlikely ever going to happen. And my heart aches for ‘home’. Thank you for confirming once again, that I’m not alone in this.


  2. “I don’t know if I can handle India again.” Oh how well I can relate to Connor’s reaction. Only for me it’s not India but the UK. I was not a child, it was my decision to leave, and I did say good bye. Still for about two years I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle going back. It would have been too hard. But then the time was right and I did go back for a visit. And it was wonderful! Such a precious time, though still tinged with a bit of heart ache. So glad you are getting to go back!


  3. I would love to return to so many of the places I called home as a child. Most of them are not safe to travel to any longer. We leave a deep part of ourselves in these places. I can understand Connor’s reaction. Going back will stir up a lot of issues, but it should also help him put that world of experiences behind him and move forward. I’m in my 50s and still struggle with all the goodbyes I didn’t say. Hopefully, this will give all of your children an opportunity to work through some of the emotions so that they don’t have issues later in life when the grief of the losses we sustain when we leave a place can come out in some unexpected ways.


    1. I’m sorry for all the good-byes you never got to say. We’re hoping this trip helps our kids avoid those things you mentioned. I wish you health as you work through these things now.


  4. My dad’s death has been a struggle for me,and this article articulates why. I didn’t really get to say good bye. My dad was alert, but he’d had a head injury and we couldn’t tell him he was dying. He freaked out at the though of hospice. We had to pretend it was just a visit, but I needed more. I wanted to say good bye and hear the words of encouragement and closure I longed for. Anyway, still trying to figure out how to say goodbye 3 years later…


    1. This breaks my heart. I’m so sorry you didn’t get to say good-bye to your dad. I hope and pray you can find a way to bid him farewell even now. Your heart needs that.


      1. Thank you :-) Sometimes as a hospital chaplain, I feel I get to say goodbye in helping older men at the end of life.


    2. Paulette, there are sources such as books, blogs, and support groups and even individual grief counseling. I have benefited from all of these.

      I write this away from home but a few book titles come to mind. Their main theme may vary but they include closure and mourning different types of losses:
      Roses in December
      Joy comes in the Mourning

      Motherless Daughters (application could possibly cross over to losing one’s father)


  5. Great article on the importance of “saying goodbye” (ie. closure).
    In a futile and foolish attempt to protect myself from more pain, I left our expatriot country, after 10 yrs.of my life there, without a single goodbye.
    I didn’t even pack up our house b/c of the very slight possibility that we might return.
    We too were burned out. I suppose burned out people are prone to not thinking straight. I appreciated your insight on how our burnout may have been affecting our children. Now that ours are older, we may venture to ask each of them.

    3 of our 4 children were born in that Middle Eastern country. They have different levels of attachment. We have close friends here (USA) from that country and have visited several times. Next trip for my husband and youngest coming up in April.
    So we are resolved now.

    Our re-entry to the US, however, was very slow and rough .
    Reading the book RE-ENTRY a few yrs. ago brought closure to a couple of lingering issues. It’s a journey.

    Thanks for sharing. I hope your trip is/was very helpful, fun and a bonding experience for your family.


    1. Thank you Jennifer for your insight. I can appreciate hearing from someone further down the road in the journey. We’re planning our trip for December! I hope it brings some of the closure you talked about.


  6. Robynn, goodbyes are important and your family decision is a great one. Leaving Pakistan for the last time, our organization knew this importance and facilitated a trip around the country for us as we met longtime friends and associates one last time. Later we returned for short visits. Our adult children as well as our grandchildren have visited. It’s about perspective. I think it was Shakespeare who said, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”


    1. Thanks for affirming this decision Bettie. It means a lot. It seems like such a luxury on so many levels…but I appreciate your words.


  7. I lived in India for two years back in the early 90’s as a young child. It was a time in my life when everything was magical and my imagination ran wild, and India was a perfect backdrop for this developmental stage. I also met and interacted with people very different from myself, including children my age living in poverty. It was a powerful experience, and I loved India. Leaving was traumatic; we left behind friends, a caretaker whom I felt close to, her family, and a place that felt like home to me. I wept the entire way to the airport, and had a difficult time settling back into the DC area. My sister had the opportunity to visit India several years ago and went back to our house in Delhi. A journalist was living there with his two daughters, girls the same age that we were when there. Something about knowing that settled a part of me that still feels raw about the way we left. I hope to one day visit India, knowing full well that I’m far from that person and that India has changed dramatically in the past twenty years. Still, some piece of it is still home for me. Thank you for this post, and I hope you’ll write more about the experience of returning to say goodbye!


    1. Oh I wish we could take you with us. I’m so sorry you had to leave then and I’m so sorry you haven’t been able to return. I hope one day you can return and revisit the magic of your childhood through your adult eyes. Thanks for commenting today.


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