I hate goodbyes.
Almost as much as Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber. Maybe more.
When my best friend moved away in kindergarten, I cried myself to sleep for weeks.
I was the girl who wept at the end of summer camp in jr. high. Not a full summer, mind you.
One week. Seven days.
So many feelings.
You would think that as an adult, I would have hunkered down in a singular place and never moved. But instead I’ve chosen a life full of good-byes.
And they haven’t gotten any easier.
This summer, it seems the good-byes have chosen me, and it’s been one after another, each one painful in its own way.
When some of my kindred spirits told me they were moving thousands of miles away, I didn’t see it coming. But there was nothing I could do to stop it, and so I had to say good-bye.
My first instinct after a long period of denial was to pull away, to draw back, to pretend I didn’t care much about them.
But that’s not true. I spent Thanksgiving with these people. They would perhaps notice if I was suddenly cold and distant.
A nasty voice screeched inside my head, “this is why you shouldn’t let people in, Jackie. It hurts too much to say good-bye. Build some walls, baby. Thick ones. Pull back, stop moving towards people, stop getting close.”
My next step was to panic, making myself too big in the story, too big in their lives, acting as if I have no life or friends outside of them. The panic was folded into bouts of rage at everyone in my path, including their kumquat-sized baby that had sparked the move.
And we all know where rage and panic will take us.
I wasn’t doing great.
So how to say good-bye in a wise and sane way?
The wise and sane people in my life reminded me that I had to let myself grieve.
As I approached grief, I remembered why I was avoiding it: grief is exhausting. I have been wired with an all-you-can-cry button, a seemingly endless supply of tears. For me, grieving means crying and crying and crying. And that doesn’t jive well with my to-do list, as if I can schedule in falling apart like a dinner party.
It’s a hard choice to let ourselves walk into the grief, into the pain. It’s overwhelming to face the sadness. Numb and distracted seems easier.
And it is, for the moment.
But numbing the sad numbs everything, and eventually we become unable to feel. Distracting it leaves grief to fester underneath like an invisible disease, gnawing away at our souls. Eventually it surfaces again, a bigger and badder beast.
I want to know how to grieve well, because it seems to me that the people who have unshakeable joy have also learned to embrace their sadness, that Jesus lived the spectrum of human emotions in a way that honored both joy and grief.
Fortunately for me, both Winnie the Pooh and Paul had thoughts on the topic.
Pooh says, “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying good-bye so hard.”
Gratitude wasn’t in my original list of responses, but when I’m seeing clearly, I’m thankful that the sadness points to real and rich relationships that should be painful to lose. I’m thankful I was given friends, the specific people I needed for this season. It’s the practice of thankfulness that softens the grief and helps me see God’s kindness in a moment where nothing feels kind.
One of my favorite passages is Acts 20, when Paul says good-bye to his buddies in Ephesus. If anyone knew short and deep relationships, it was Paul. After his speech, they had a big cry fest. Granted, he had the impending doom of arrests and flogging and prison ahead of him, so my good-bye parties now seem a touch less dramatic. But there is also something universal about their experience, and I imagine all of them gathered together, as they prayed and cried and hugged one last time.
This exchange reminds me that this is what I want my life to be about; this kind of friendship, this kind of love, that I want to have the kind of relationships I’m heartbroken to lose. It also reminds me that because of Christ, our grief is laced with hope, which is much better than laced with rage or panic or numbness (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
It makes me want to practice regularly saying all the things we say during good-byes. In the middle of the mundane, I want to tell people that I love them and why.
It makes me want to hug my people, and pray for them, and thank them once again for all the goodness they have brought into my life, all the ways they’ve lived out the love of God to me.
And it makes me long a little more for the day when we won’t have to say good-bye, for the day when we won’t have any more tears to cry (Revelation 21).
Until then, you can find me with a big box of Kleenex crying my little eyes out.
But come sit with me, because I’ll share, I promise.