“Don’t break my red plate.”
“Don’t get attached to inanimate objects.”
“I have to; the animate ones keep leaving.”
Never before has that six year-old exchange held more meaning that in the past few months, especially in the past two weeks. Just a few days ago, eldest son, his partner, and their daughter (yep, my granddaughter) moved to Hawaii. Just today middle son left for summer adventure in Seattle and LA, along with participation in a dance intensive in North Carolina. Youngest son is taking driver’s ed: a definitive step toward many more goodbyes. He is also starting high school in the fall – yet another milestone that heralds more farewells.
We are in a culture that doesn’t like to say goodbye. Saying that word has fallen out of fashion. If you type in “it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later” into YouTube, you get over seven million hits: original songs, movie clips, poetic tributes, and inspirational talks. Move that search out to Google, and you’ll get 39 million hits.
We don’t want to say goodbye. This is prevalent in modern dating culture. It seems to be (and I ran this by people in several different age brackets) standard to ghost a person you don’t want to see any more. For example, you have a first date – maybe even a couple of dates – and then: Nothing. No texts, calls, emails…no returned correspondence either. If this happens to you, you have been ghosted. The person in question is disappearing; they don’t want to say, “Hey, I’m not really that interested” or “This isn’t working out” or the old standby, “It’s not you; it’s me.” No one wants to say goodbye in any form.
We can also see this reticence in the funeral industry. Like all industries, the funeral industry evolves to stay relevant. And, in the end, we all use some part of that industry. However, a desire to avoid the finality of a goodbye caused by death plays a role. A number of factors, including rising costs; creating new traditions; and a move away from traditional organized religion, encourage families not to view a funeral or other life-end memorial as a goodbye, but as a celebration of life. If we meditate then party, we don’t have to say goodbye.
Why? Are we trying to keep our options open? Are we thinking: if I don’t say goodbye, then the person isn’t really dead? Or my friend hasn’t really moved away? Or she might still date me if I want to re-up later? What’s happening here?
Farewells are hard. I have divorced twice; I have had close contemporaries and young students, as well as beloved elders, die; I have been ghosted; I have moved. I have sent two sons to college and into life. Goodbyes are a part of all of life.
Goodbye is a contraction from the 16th century “God be with ye.” Seems appropriate. Child going to college? God be with ye. Not interested in dating him any more? God be with him. Dear friend passed away? God be with her. Yes, totally appropriate. And needed.
We need to be able to say goodbye to people. It’s an important skill. Saying goodbye well teaches resilience. It draws a line, and it allows those being left behind to adjust to an absence. Being able to say goodbye means that we can leave someone and move forward. When goodbye doesn’t involve the finality of death, it’s easier; but even when it is funereal, it’s a prelude to the days where we have to go on living.
I’m not saying goodbyes are easy. But, I’m afraid that the lack of sincere, sometimes heart-wrenching goodbyes are rendering us incapable of moving on in a healthy way. Sure, I cry when a son leaves to move 3915 miles away. I have cried when my loved ones have died. I cry with others when their loved ones die. I cried when I got seriously ghosted earlier this year. Shoot, I cry when a contestant gets eliminated on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
In their various forms, these goodbyes help me into the next act.
Yes, goodbyes are tough to swallow. And, yes, sometimes the next act totally sucks.
However, goodbyes are not the end of a song; they are the entr’acte.
Goodbyes are the prelude to what comes next.