Dancing the Footsteps of the Long Goodbye

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?

Photo Credit: HaoJan via Compfight cc

9 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Simmons August 4, 2014

    Hello my fellow Kansan!!!

    Thank you so much for your words and sharing your heart. I am still on the home side of the metal detector waiting for the day to come when I will have to say my goodbyes. I am already super excited about that day and super dreading it. It’s a yucky tension.

    Thank you for helping to normalize it and laying out various options to be explored for when that day comes!

    1. Karen Huber August 5, 2014

      Yay Kansas! Thanks for the comment, Elizabeth. It is a yucky tension, and it can be hard to both really look forward to going and yet grieve the leaving. May the time leading up to your going be blessed!

  2. Patty Stallings August 4, 2014

    Karen, I so appreciate that image of shifting identities as you pass through airport security.  Standing in that line is one of my least favorite travel activities.  You’ve given me a fresh perspective to occupy my thinking as I take those tiny little steps through the twisting line.

    1. Karen Huber August 5, 2014

      Thanks for the comment, Patty. It is kind of a strange little transition from one world to the next via metal detector, isn’t it?

  3. Amy Young August 4, 2014

    My last night in the States we have the routine of the whole family going out to dinner and then we all drive over to my sister’s house for the goodbyes. I hug each person and there are many, many tears. But it also helps us to know we have this routine.

    1. Karen Huber August 5, 2014

      This is such a great routine, Amy! I’m sure it helps knowing there’s a familiarity and time of connection with family right before you go. I may steal the idea. 🙂

  4. Deanna August 5, 2014

    I have really enjoyed the past couple of week’s posts.  We are leaving the country on Aug 20th for the first time. They have all been just what I need to hear during this time.  So many emotions running through me and it is comforting to know of others who have walked similar paths.  Thanks for another great post!

    1. Karen Huber August 10, 2014

      Hi Deanna! I’m so glad you feel encouraged. These last few weeks have been so good for the “before” time. I wish I’d read posts like these before we left for the field the first time! Make sure you come back and tell us how the leaving – and the arriving! – goes!

  5. Jamie September 3, 2014

    I remember those goodbyes to family at the airport.  They are horrible!  My husband, boys, and I are now on the other end.  After three years in New Zealand, we are headed back to the United States.  We are now having to say goodbye to new friends.  Our goodbyes are stretched out over a month.  I hate it.  I think I’d rather say goodbye then jump on a plane.

    Overall, it a strange transition time.  We you leave your home country, it’s very hard to say goodbye.  But when you go back to your home country , you deal with a mix of emotions.  You are excited to see family and friends you haven’t seen in years, but you are sad to leave new friends.

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