A Life Overseas – To the One Who is Left Behind

Hi Readers! I was at A Life Overseas yesterday writing to those who are left behind. You may have already seen a first version of this post a couple of years ago, but if not I would love it if you joined me!

Airport Check-in

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”
― Frederick Buechner

I watched with a sinking heart as my son walked through security and down the hallway to his gate. He was leaving from Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts for a gap semester in Oxford, England.

This was my youngest, my baby. The entire process of getting him ready and off was an event. I have said goodbye to many before — other family members, dear friends, other children — it was never easy, but this one felt different. It was the end of an era: An era of parenting that was finishing, a new stage beginning.

My husband and I had reversed the roles we had for so long; the roles where we were the ones leaving. Now it was our children and we were the ones left behind.

It’s always the same. I stand at the airport or in the driveway and the word ‘grief’ feels too shallow for what I feel, all the emotions that flow through my heart and mind. I watch as my life changes in slow motion as the people I love drive away or go through airport security.

“You sob like you will never stop. There is no one to hold you. There is no one to offer tangible, concrete comfort. Slowly the sobs swallow you up. You begin to feel such relief, the relief that comes only from a cry so deep you can’t explain it. And somehow you know that God is there.”*

I know with each parting, that life will never be the same and I’m never quite sure I will be able to handle it. I’m never sure whether this time might be the time where I become undone, where I can no longer pick up the pieces and move forward accepting that those I love are gone. But each time I do. Each time I survive, and I smile and laugh again, and though it hurts, somehow it’s okay. 

So this piece is for the one who is left behind.

I don’t know your exact situation, but I surely know this ‘deeper than grief’ feeling, I know what it is to leave, but I also know what it is to be left behind. Here are some thoughts for those who are left behind:

Read the rest at A Life Overseas.

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.

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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.

Guest Posting at A Life Overseas – “I Don’t Do Goodbye”

I am honored to be posting over at A Life Overseas today. This blog is a tremendous resource for those of you living and working overseas, so if you haven’t yet found it, you’re in for a treat. To be asked to guest-post for this blog felt like I was given a gift with a huge bow on top!

From the blog: The blog collective ‘A Life Overseas’ provides that place of online connection for Christ-following missionaries and humanitarian aid workers living in foreign countries– from the past, present, or future.  As a team of writers who have logged years of overseas experience ourselves, we want to create an online space where expats of many nations come together to interact, encourage, and find a community that ‘gets it’.

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I’ve included an excerpt from the post here: 

One week ago we said goodbye to my younger brother and his wife beside a ferry boat in Istanbul. In the grand scheme of goodbyes, this was surely not the hardest, but it still stung.

I don't do goodbye! I love you

Making it more difficult – another brother and his wife arrived from Kazakhstan and Cyprus and we had an unexpected family reunion. We collectively decided Turkey is an excellent place for a family reunion.

We arrived on a grey, chilly Saturday afternoon and drank sahlep on the banks of the Bosphorous before catching a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. Our first meal held the magic of a crowded shopping area, a soccer game between warring teams viewed on a television perched high above the crowd, and kebabs that filled the mouth with tastes of the Middle East. Every day was filled with belonging and connection. And then it was over. We had to say goodbye.

Read more over at A Life Overseas – ‘I Don’t Do Goodbye’

Make sure you take a look through that blog as you won’t be disappointed with writers like Rachel Pieh Jones and Tara Livesay – two people who live what they write and more.

Goodbye~ God Be With You!

The A train serves JFK Airport via the Howard ...

We entered into New York’s JFK airport with a plane full of other passengers yesterday. While we headed to the line that bore the banner “US Citizens”, a majority of the passengers on the plane headed to one of the other two lines: Residents or Visitors, located farther down in the large impersonal immigration area.

We had said goodbye the evening before to my daughter and oldest son, who is staying on with his sister in Cairo for the next couple of weeks. We held each other tightly and didn’t want to let go – I know we both wish that we lived closer. Just as my mom would love to pop over for a cup of tea to my house without planning, so would I love to grab tea or coffee with my oldest daughter spontaneously, without purchasing a plane ticket.  How I have missed through the years and many goodbyes I have said that the origin of the word “goodbye” comes from “God be with you” is a mystery, but miss it I did. This changes the word completely for me, for to say “God be with you” is at the heart of my world and to say “Goodbye” to my kids with that meaning in mind is a comfort to my ‘mom’ heart.

The collective goodbyes represented in the large immigration room were many. We were all strangers to each other so who knows the scope of the stories and goodbyes that were present, but knowing many immigrants, all with amazing and poignant life stories, allowed me to understand that there was far more beneath that which is visible, there is so much more beyond the surface.  Some were permanent residents of the US, probably visiting relatives in Cairo and now back home. Others were newcomers to the US and the slightly confused looks on their faces and making their way to the wrong lines gave away their confusion and lack of familiarity with the “rules”.

Those of you who read this blog are no stranger to goodbyes. Perhaps your first goodbyes were said at the young age of six or seven as you went to boarding school for the first time, brave on the surface but your stomach knotting inside as you passed through that boarding school “rite of passage” for the first time. Others may have said your first goodbyes in high school, going back to your passport country to complete school to compete successfully in the country of your parents. For others it was when you got married and left your family home, entering into a new world with either your in-laws or a world apart with your new husband who could hardly grow a beard, so young was he.

Regardless of when it was, the feelings of nervous stomach and throat catching are universal. It’s the butterflies and the uneasy energy that seem to take over, and the tears that remain unshed, stored up for a more private time to be poured out like water when you are parched.

And today we say goodbye to 2011 – a different kind of goodbye to be sure, but some of the same elements of joys, regrets, losses and gains, sorrows and happiness. In August I wrote a post on saying goodbye to my daughter, Stefanie as she went off to college for the first time. I am posting it here again as I think of the goodbyes that have been said throughout the year and may be remembered today – It is the bittersweet taste of that word “Goodbye!”. As you close out 2011 and open your heart to 2012 may your goodbyes have the sweetness of “God be with you!”

August 2011 – The Bittersweet Taste of the Words Goodbye

We’re up early. While the rest of the house is sleeping our college-bound girl is doing the last-minute packing, grabbing a winter coat she reasonably forgot given the 89 degrees and 90% humidity of our August morning, and trying to calm her stomach. And though I had not intended to do a blog post as I think on those bittersweet words “Goodbye” I had to reflect.

Those of you who are third culture kids or international travelers know these words all too well. The most poignant memory by far in my life comes from a long ago time when at six years old with my favorite doll in my arms I was driven with older brothers to the Hyderabad train station to catch a train that would take me 800 miles to Rawalpindi station where a large army-green bus would pick us up and take us the remaining 2 hour journey up to our boarding school in the hill station of Murree. The tears flowed without embarrassment – I was, of course, only six. Even after all these years the bitter taste of goodbye and all that meant for me is a sweet and hard memory. The hardest part for my mother came when the train rolled away. At that point her tears fell, and mine stopped. I was with friends. As suddenly as the train left the station, my world was immersed in six-year-old imagination and friendship.

That was the first of more goodbyes than I could possibly count. Whoever first coined the phrase “bittersweet” had tremendous insight. For we know that usually what is beyond will be wonderful for the person to whom we are saying goodbye. But the present brings up that all-too familiar knot in the stomach – a mixture of pain, sadness and nervousness. What I remember even more than goodbye was the memory of waking up the next morning in an unfamiliar bed in complete confusion until I remembered that this was boarding. I had left home. Mom was not there. The hot tears that fell on my six-year-old face were accompanied by a clear whisper – “No, you’re not home – but I am with you. I will be with you”.  I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was indeed the voice of God himself. And those words were stronger than any verse of scripture or any theological doctrine could be.

Those are the words I hope each of my children hear as they say their very frequent goodbyes. Those are the words I hope Stef wakes up to tomorrow morning.

Those are the words I wish for you as you close out 2011 and move into 2012. God be with you!