We Said Goodbye

It’s my daughter’s birthday today. Way before 9/11 happened it was Annie’s Birthday. For years we had a dilemma – we wanted to celebrate Annie even as it was fitting to commemorate the losses on that day. But we wanted to celebrate her and rightly so. Why does evil get to win? Why can evil co-opt a day forever? Annie isn’t the only one who has a birthday that day – others do as well and babies will be born in the future. Because that is life in its complexity and paradox. 

Today we celebrate her a thousand miles away as we said goodbye to her a few weeks ago. So today I write, not about her birthday, but about saying goodbye.


She came in September and we said goodbye in late August, when the long summer nights begin to grow cooler and daylight no longer stretches for hours.

Two years ago we said hello at the international terminal at Logan International Airport, the arrival area thick with people all straining to see those they loved. She had her two signature, hard-back suitcases and her cat, a black, white, and orange kitty who she lovingly rescued from the garbage in Cairo.

She left a world of activists, artists, journalists, and humanitarian workers where long nights were spent discussing things as important as Egyptian politics, the latest news, and who would be meeting at Stella bar for drinks the next day. She left a community that loved her, and one she loved back and entered into life in the chilly North East where it can take years to connect with people and winters can stretch on as vast and cold as the Egyptian sky is blue and hot.

And then we said goodbye. She’s moving on to another city and a new stage in her life. As I typed this piece, boxes were everywhere, some completely packed, others waiting for those last items.

We are doing the dance of parenthood: that dance that moves back and forth like slow jazz, one moment being too bossy, the next moment keeping our noses out of her stuff.

We said goodbye in the early morning cool, beside a van packed tight with all her earthly goods, save the American Girl Dolls.

We said goodbye with lumps in our throats, brushing away tears as though they were annoying bugs, instead of the healing fluid of the heart.

We said goodbye to having her in our daily life, an unexpected gift, and all the things that are her — both amazing and annoying. The books, the dishes, the cat, the cat fur, the clothes, the smiles, the extreme laughter, the talk, the butt jokes, the tears.

We said goodbye to two years of God-given time that we never expected.

And with the goodbye, we raised our glasses to this first-born daughter – resilient, beautiful, talented, funny, irritating, brave, engaging, and lover of all things champagne on a beer-budget.

And we went back in the apartment and shouted loudly “We’re empty nesters! We’re empty nesters”, the parental dance changing in an instant.

My oldest brother says that now that I’ve written a book I am allowed to quote myself so here goes. “All the world feels caught in these goodbyes, goodbyes that bruise and hurt but remind us that our hearts are still soft and alive. For a dead heart doesn’t hurt with a goodbye, only a heart alive to others feels the pain of that goodbye, the difficulty of leaving….” From the Goodbye section of Between Worlds page 202

Goodbye Annie Rebekah Gardner – God be with you.

12 thoughts on “We Said Goodbye

  1. 9/11 has always been and always will be the birthday of any number of wonderful people. I’m glad you had this time with your daughter, and I pray you will have many more happy times with her in the future.


  2. Oh Marilyn, you always express anything and everything in such beautiful harmony…
    Empathizing with your heart at this time but also reveling with You and Cliff in this new season as ’empty nesters.’ Such a dichotomy of feelings at first but a time for the ‘You and Cliff’ that began your unique family.


  3. Oh, goodness…there is still more of that coming in my life, huh? :) You are a blessing to me, Marilyn, as you go through stages of parenting ahead of me. This is the complexity of life…joy and sorrow only seconds apart and actually PART OF the same moment in time.


  4. And I was there in that birthing room in Chicago, Annie, and got to hold you when you were so brand new to this world. Loved you then, and love you even more. Thank you Marilyn, for this beautiful piece and the pictures – so special.


    1. You were and it was wonderful!! And then we moved to the lovely New Hampshire house where you and dad graciously let us live with you – have I ever thanked you for that? What a perfect beginning to motherhood I had!


  5. Happy Birthday, Annie! And Happy Birth-Day to your parents; their lives were infinitely richer with your first breath! And with the treasure of your siblings who followed . . . I honor you today and with your parents, the complexity and grace of parenthood.


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