The Goodbye Girl

I am terrible at saying goodbye. This, I know, to be a truth. It has always been the case. There is a simple ripping in my chest when even thinking about saying the word, let alone acknowledging the feeling. It makes no sense. I mean, I know, if we’re lucky, most goodbyes are just for now. They are essentially the Hawaiian “aloha,” a farewell and a hello. Goodbye can be a word that means “until we meet again.” My mind understands this, while my heart refuses.

So saying goodbye has become one of those things in life I do poorly. It joins a myriad of other things I am not good at, like yoga and anything that requires balancing, which, come to think of it , might explain my problem with yoga and my checkbook. We all have things we’re not good at. I’m talking about the regular everyday things that, try as we might, are not in our wheelhouse. For some, that might be running, wrapping presents, or using your computer. Things we do whether we’re good at them or not. For me, they include growing plants, trying to cook without garlic, driving in the winter, and saying goodbye.

For years, I handled this goodbye impairment as a phobia. I merely avoided all goodbyes. After a visit, when company would leave, I, somehow, was nowhere to be found. It was easier to later say, “Oh! I am so sorry I missed you leaving!” Crafty, right? Well, maybe not. Years of this strategy taught me a few things. Number one: As you get older, avoidance of anything is lame. Whatever it is, buck up and deal with it. Life will be fuller because you did. And number two? I realized people leaving wasn’t the problem, I was. For some reason, for me, the utterance of a goodbye is a direct hit. A raw nerve that exposes the vulnerability of two people looking each other in the eye and saying, “I may never see you again.”

Facing this does not mean I get good at the thing I am not good at. It’s never the point. It means I get the opportunity to be really present, no matter if I’m not good at the thing or not. So what, if I falter in saying goodbye; or do anything in a messy, imperfect way? Might it be uncomfortable or wobbly? Yes. It probably will be. Things we’re not good at often are. But it will also be real. And, at this point in life, I want to play for real.

Coincidentally, these are my thoughts two days after I said goodbye to my sister who sold her house and moved south. Yes, I hugged her. Yes, I told her I loved her. I even made her a necklace with a locket holding a piece of a map of Lake Champlain, her home for many years. But what I didn’t do? Actually say goodbye.

If she were here in front of me right now, I would practice that which I am writing about. I would look in her eyes and I would say from my familial heart, “Dear Susie, goodbye, dear sister. I will miss you.” I would remind her that she is incomparable and my life would not be the same without her. I would say, “aloha,” too, because thinking I will see her again is the balm to the adieu. And, likely, this goodbye, similar to many things I’m not good at, would be messy and uncomfortable, and that would be okay too.

It’s all a balancing act, isn’t it? Which makes me think, perhaps I’m not alone in this poor balancing thing. Maybe no one is perfect at it because that’s inherently the point; that one finds balance always from the stance of imbalance; that instability is part of balancing. I guess all that matters is that we continue to dare to teeter-totter, balancing to square ourselves, regardless whether we are adept or not. I recognize it is one of the things I love about being human, that all of us, no matter how much we wobble, we do it anyway. And with that, I say goodbye.