Some people come into our lives, and quickly go. Others stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever, the same.
Can you count how many times you have said good-bye in your life? I certainly can't. With all the practice we as expats have, moving from town to town and country to country, establishing ever new social bonds - does saying good-bye ever get easier?
Every morning you say good-bye to your spouse as you leave to do your jobs, to your kids as they go to school, your business partners as you walk out of meetings or hang up the phone, your friends as you close the chat window, your waiters as you leave the restaurant. Those good-byes are relatively easy and we don't usually spend much time thinking about them. What makes them easy? The assumption that you'll see each other again after work, school, college; at the next meeting; at the next happy hour; well, you may not have that close a bond anyway, so even when you do go back, somebody else can take their place, or you'll happily continue where you left off ignoring the break.
Slightly harder are the good-byes for extended business trips, grown kids going to college in the next state, friends or family going an expat assignment abroad. The level of personal interaction you're used to is severely interrupted, and that can cause anxiety in both partners. Thankfully, modern telecommunication has made it relatively easy to remain in touch with loved ones however near and far away. Phones, mobiles, email, internet forums, networking sites, video chats, etc - all designed to bring people closer together. As Carrie said in that SATC episode where Big moved to California: "if you're lucky, they're just a plane ride away."
What about saying good-bye to the terminally ill, old, or deceased? When you don't know whether this will be the last time you see someone (which, let's be frank, could be anyone at anytime if you consider the statistics of traffic accidents), how many times do you say good-bye, just to be sure you get to say everything you need and want to say? Do you live each day as if it were your last, in an attempt to outsmart the inevitable deathbed question of regret?
I would imagine that's quite stressful, never allowing yourself a break for fear of missing something. As for saying good-bye after someone has passed, that has to be one of the hardest things. Be it an unexpected occasion or you didn't get there in time, the feeling of having unfinished business may linger for a long time.
Which is why the grieving period is so important. It is true that life goes on for the living and that moving on is the healthy thing to do, but proper attention must be paid to the loss. This loss may be the relationship you had with a person who passed, and rituals like funerals or wakes can be very helpful. However, a loss can also come in the shape of a job loss, or the end of a friendship or marriage, or the transition to another stage in life.
I would invite everyone going through a time of change in this respect to take a moment and reflect on who or what will no longer form a part of your life, and what that means for your definition of self. Closing the circles, or book chapters if that analogy makes more sense for you, is imperative to enable you to move on without extra baggage. Extracting lessons from who and what you're leaving behind is essential for accepting the change and not spend unnecessary time looking over your shoulder.
In his PT blog article, "Why do we hate good-byes?" Robert Fuller explores the interdependence of people, and how our sense of self is linked to our relationships. In other words, when leaving a place where they've known you all your life, new friends will rarely know you like your old friends did. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if left unawares it may play havoc with your sense of self. Especially when you go back to visit your old home, and your old friends don't get you anymore. But that's another story.
Saying good-bye and closing circles takes as long as it takes; everybody's different. Some books get opened again and again, new chapters are written, and some will be continued in the form of one-way conversations. Everything is relative, and you are not alone.
Image by Katie Darby, Flickr, Creative Commons License.