The Importance of Goodbyes

I’m surrounded by suitcases. Each of them are partially full, unfinished puzzles waiting for the right piece to go into the vacant spot. I look at my husband in awe. He does this so well. It’s not just about years of practice – if that was it I would be a master. It’s about the way his mind works, creating order out of chaos and organizing the seemingly unorganizable.

There have been many tears. As opposed to making this decision ourselves and gently removing the bandaid of loss, we are forced into this decision by powers much larger and stronger than we are. The bandaid is ripped off too soon leaving tender skin and a wound.

Making it worse is that no one at the university knows all we gave up to come here. In tears yesterday I called a friend. I could barely talk. “You gave up so much to go,” she said.

“We gave up everything!” I replied. Amazing jobs, an apartment in the perfect location, a car, a church, friendships, retirement funds… the list goes on and on. And we won’t get all of those things back.

In the midst of it, I’m reminded that part of building a raft to get us through this is saying our goodbyes.

We grieve as we say goodbye because we are losing places and people that we love. Each goodbye is a little like death, it’s saying goodbye to permanence and the relationships as we know them. They will change, they have to change. Comfort and hope will have their place, and they are part of the process, but sometimes we need to just sit with the grief before being forced to move on. The global transnational family has developed an amazing capacity to adapt, to move forward, but sometimes we need to just stop where we are and honor that moment.”

From “Honor the Grief, Honor the Goodbye”

And so we are and we have. On Saturday we invited friends to join us for ice cream at our favorite ice cream shop. 25 people gathered and we talked, laughed, told stories and took many, many photos.

Yesterday my husband, who has been going to a local pool every Sunday to informally teach guys to swim, got together for one last time of swimming. The pictures tell an unforgettable story of friendship and fun. These guys have bonded in the water, learning skills and forging cross-cultural friendships. It has been an amazing time for my husband.

During the time he was at the pool, I had my own precious goodbye picnic with nursing staff from the College of Nursing. We drove a half hour from Ranya, up and over hills and through small villages to a perfect picnic spot by a small river. Large trees shaded the area and it was ten degrees cooler than Ranya.

I’ve never known a group of people to love picnics the way Kurdish people love picnics and within minutes large mats were set up and both men and women were setting out large plates of rice and bowls of a bean and meat stew. Smaller plates held onions, bunches of parsley, and fresh green peppers. Chicken was on another plate and with all of this, the requisite huge pieces of naan. We talked, laughed, ate, and took more photos. It was a time where I was able to tell each faculty member why they were special to me and I will not soon forget it.

Now we are on our last day. The puzzle will soon be finished; the suitcases packed and ready to make the two hour trip to our hotel in Erbil. Last night we went to our favorite restaurant and said our goodbyes to our dear Iranian friends, proof that relationships between people do not have to reflect the politics and policies of their countries. Tears came as I hugged all of them. They too have been outsiders here and we have forged a beautiful friendship across what could be insurmountable cultural barriers.

After we left the restaurant, we drove to Lake Dukan a last time with our friend and watched the moonlight create a path across the river real enough to walk on. Lights from cars and houses flickered off the water, reflecting hopes, dreams, and disappointments. We were silent a good bit of the time, from tiredness and from too many thoughts swimming in our brains. Our friendship has been a safe place to land these past months and it was fitting to end the evening by the lake.

Soon our thoughts will turn to what is ahead – a trip to Istanbul to visit my brother and delight in the shadows of minarets and ancient churches. Relaxing on ferry rides and sharing our hearts with our people. Then the United States and job searches, buying a car, a million details to work through, and a wedding to plan. Seeing our kids and reconnecting with dear friends and family, going to our Parish and receiving hugs and the joy of gathering in worship. There is so much good and so much hard in all of this. But first we will say goodbye.

So if you are one of those people, one of those families that is saying goodbye this June, I offer this: Sit with your grief, let it flow, don’t try too hard to analyze, don’t push yourself or others to some ‘right’ response. Just sit with it. Because as the grief comes, so will the comfort.

Honor the Grief, Honor the Goodbye

And for your goodbyes? Say your goodbyes. The goodbyes will hurt, they will smart. Like a wound feels when the salty ocean water washes over it you will brace yourself. But just as the salt in the ocean provides healing so will goodbyes offer healing to your mobile soul.

8 thoughts on “The Importance of Goodbyes

  1. Thank you for finding words for such a time as this. As I read, my heart went out to you over and over again. I, too, have experienced the heart-wrenching of saying goodbye to loved ones when I left for South America and later to Africa. And then I experienced the heart-wrenching goodbyes as I left South America and Africa and returned home. May God comfort you and strengthen you as you make this huge transition.

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  2. What a drag to have to go through this yet again… I will be praying for your transition.

    I was tickled by your comment on Kurds and picnics. I worked with a Kurd in Dallas who was a huge Cowboys fan. He described the elaborate tailgate parties they had in the stadium parking lot. Often they didn’t bother going in to see the game because they were having too much fun.

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  3. My heart grieves with you. Having been through several forced, abrupt departures from places we loved I know the pain you are feeling all too well. The loss of purpose and community is so difficult. I am glad you have had the time and the intentionality to say real goodbyes to the people and places that have defined your sojourn in Kurdistan. Blessings and grace as you journey on and take more steps into the unknown.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This arrived in my inbox literally the exact moment I needed to read it. I’m in a situation where I’m scared to say goodbye because I’m scared to know the truth. I was considering avoiding it, which is not at all like me. Thank you for sharing your perspective on the importance of goodbyes. It’s true. In times of difficult loss, it’s a balm to the soul.

    Wishing you all the best in the next chapter, whatever that is to be. You and Cliff are such brave and adventurous souls. I have no doubt it will be wonderful.

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  5. This is particularly poignant to me asI know goodbyes very well and I know for you, this has come too soon. You are absolutely correct of the need for these farewells in all of their forms, from quiet reflection to poignant time and tears with friends. Wishing you a peaceful, healing time in Turkey… embrace that, the rest will all take care of itself xx

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