It has such finality. There’s so much longing and sadness. And yet, it is inevitable. We all say goodbye to people and places throughout our lives, in a multitude of ways. We say goodbye to homes when we move from one to another. We say goodbye to friends as they move away for grad school or a new job. We say goodbye to loved ones in death. All these goodbyes don’t seem to make saying goodbye again any easier. They set off new waves of grief. They are often the last step from unsettled into chaos in the transition bridge.
My life includes a higher than average number of goodbyes. Some of it is my very transient group of friends who move often for school and new jobs. Then moving overseas increases the goodbyes exponentially. I’m preparing to say goodbye to all of the people, places, foods, and support structures that have defined my life. Once I’m overseas I’ll make new friends and some of them will probably also be people who are transient. After a time together, we’ll have to say farewell to one another. I’ll come back to visit North America every few years, and I’ll have to say goodbye to my people, places, foods, and support structures in China. And when that visit is done, I’ll say goodbye to North America, again. All these goodbyes make figuring out how to do them well important.
Saying goodbye well was one of the topics we talked about in training. It is one of the topics I’m most grateful we discussed. I don’t like goodbyes. I don’t think I’m especially good at them. And yet, I know deep inside that they are important, and that I want to do goodbyes well for me and for everyone around me. Discussing saying goodbye helped me to name some things about goodbyes that I knew in my gut and think about how to say goodbye well in some tangible ways.
Although I don’t even have plane tickets yet, goodbyes are starting to be imminent. My sisters arrive today (from Colorado and New Jersey) to spend a week. By Saturday morning, I will have said goodbye to them for a few years. Later on Saturday I will have a goodbye party with some friends, and I will say goodbye to them, too. It is hard for me not to think about what milestones I will miss in their lives and how big their kids will be the next time I see them. Being intentional about goodbyes is important this week and the upcoming month.
Good goodbyes don’t start at the airport (or goodbye party). At training, I learned to make a goodbye R.A.F.T. R is for reconciliation, making broken relationships right wherever possible. A is for affirmation, telling all of your people why they are important to you. F is for farewell, the things you do to say goodbye. T is for think destination, thinking and preparing for where you are heading.
Right now I am focusing on the affirmation and farewell pieces. I don’t have it all figured out yet, but I do want to affirm the people I am saying goodbye to. I want them (you!) to know how important you are in my life. I think this looks like prioritizing time with people, sharing my appreciation verbally, and probably writing some notes. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians are my prayer for us: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
I’m also thinking about the farewell piece. Spending time with people and saying yes to things like goodbye parties are part of saying farewell. I’m hoping to have a big goodbye party for everyone at some point before I leave. I’m also taking on a photo project, to take photos of the people and places that I love. I have a list of people and places I want to photograph—downtown Grand Rapids, my favorite coffee shop in Saugatuck, my grandpa, the Lake Michigan sunset. If I’m done taking the photos in time, I’d like to get a book printed to take with me. The photos accompanying this post are the first installment of photos of the little town where my parents live. If you have said goodbye, do you have suggestions of other things to do?
In her book Praying Our Goodbyes, Joyce Rupp writes, “The word goodbye—originally “God-be-with-ye” or “Go-with-God” was a recognition that God was a significant part of the going. When you dreaded or feared the journey there was strength in remembering that the One who gave and cherished life would be there to protect and to console. Goodbye was a blessing of love, proclaiming the belief that if God went with you, you would never be alone, that comfort, strength and all the other blessings of a loving presence would accompany you.”
When I am finally seated on the plane to China, I hope that my family and friends will know how much I appreciate them. I hope they know how much our relationship means and that our relationship continues in a new way. I hope that our tears in the airport or at the goodbye party are a sign of the importance our each other in our lives. I hope that my heart and my mind will feel grateful and thankful for the people and the places of the last six years I have been in the United States, and having marked their significance that I will be ready to change my relationship to them. I hope that I can trust my loved ones to God’s presence and that they will be ready to trust me to God’s care. I hope that my heart will be open and ready to embrace new people and places, so that I can truly go-with-God.
Linking up at Velvet Ashes