We just did that thing again. That thing where you wave at your dad from behind the glass, shoes off and boarding pass out. One or two children huddle around you, throwing backpacks onto conveyor belts and walking back and forth through the metal detector. Your husband waits for you on the other side, while you pass through security and from one life to the next.
On one side of the glass you are a daughter. On the other side, you are a sojourner; though, in that moment, you probably don’t feel like one at all.
I remember our first time. A baby girl on my hip and a little-boy-hand in mine. We left on a Sunday, a cavalcade of cars burdened with luggage and hopes, and a great deal of uncertainty. I pressed my forehead against the glass, the warmth of a sunny, late spring morning effortlessly pulling tears from my eyes. Turns out, even after four years of support raising, I was not-so-ready to forsake my Kansas home for Ireland’s green shores. My heart literally ached, threatening to break in two. A large group of saints gathered round us, hands on backs and arms, prayers lifted high by people I have known all my life.
I remember my mother’s proud cries, and my dad’s wave goodbye.
A handful of times we’ve danced the footsteps of the long goodbye. Though goodbyes themselves never get easier, the act of leaving does. And as we’ve come and gone – as we know our community, our children and ourselves a little better – we now go in confidence. We remember the moves and we pace our steps.
We know the moment we’ve longed and prayed for – though the years crawled by, measured in newsletters and support percentages – will be upon us in a flash. The months will turn to weeks and days, and suddenly the departure is imminent and all the what ifs and whens suddenly turn to heres and nows.
We know we can never do them all justice; those who have sent and supported, who feel the burden of Good News with us. There is never enough time, so we do what we can. We sit with our parents, watch them play with their grandchildren for the last time. We schedule coffee dates and playdates, and maybe even a potluck or two. We try to honour those who send us, saying “I love you” to those who may not have heard in it awhile. Handshakes and hugs will go on for weeks, and we are girded up by their prayers, realizing we are far from the only ones who are sacrificing.
We know our children aren’t as privy to the emotional weight of it. And while the aunts and uncles hold them ever tighter, our burgeoning third-culture-kids squirm and dash. Oh, they do love them all, but they’re ready to get on with it. The wistful sadness will come later for them, so we let it go for now. They are adventurers and this is only the next stop.
And we know the big airport to-do may not be best for us. That first time was tough on our little tribe. It was tough on everyone. So now we say goodbye in living rooms and driveways; in McDonald’s play areas and parking lots. This seems less serious, less permanent than when an airplane is waiting to depart. The comfort of normalcy soothes us all, and afterwards, we entrust ourselves to one or two people who will get us where we need to be.
On Christmas Eve I hugged my mother in the parking lot of our apartment. We were still two weeks away from departure after an extended home assignment, but we said goodbye early, knowing the pain would never really lesson.
It was the worst. And it was also the best.
The holidays were spent with my in-laws in Wisconsin, an extended goodbye of sledding and gift giving. And three days before D-Day we drove to Chicago, where they left us in the capable hands of my best friend. By the time we took that final trip to the airport, the goodbyes were said and done.
She dropped us at the curb and I gave her a long hug and a thank you. We were back to being just the five of us. Ready for the next stop, preparing now for the hellos.
What special things have you done to say goodbye to your loved ones? How do you prepare yourself, your children or your family for the inevitable goodbyes?