When my friend Kim shared with me late one evening over ice cream that their family would be relocating to the USA, I returned home and wept. I wept for the anticipated loss of one of my closest China-Mommy friends; and I wept for the loss my children would experience. Our sons were ‘tight’ – her son, Moyer, has even claimed they have been best buddies since before birth! I was very aware that night that this loss, this transition, would be felt deeply by each member of both families.
We were blessed – privileged, really – to have had many months ahead of us before their big move. Something inside of me determined to make those remaining months the best months possible; to create opportunities for shared memories. I refused to “let go” of these dear friends until that morning when their van drove away and we waved our tear-stained goodbyes.
As I look back on the very intentional things that we did together, I am so thankful that we did every one of them. I have no regrets for giving all that we did in time, emotional energy and finances to let them know how much we valued each of them.
So, how did we intentionally prepare to “Stay Well”?
1) Picture Taking Date: Wanting to take advantage of Kim’s great photography skills, we set a date to capture the five kids together. With their clothing color-coordinated for the occasion, we ventured into one of the garden areas in our neighborhood and snapped some precious pictures quickly before we lost their attention. We chose a favorite and I had it printed for both families.
2) Memory Book: With two picture-taking moms, there were literally thousands of pictures of these kids from their almost 6 years together. It was very fulfilling to create a memory book documenting the five children’s lives together. We decided to give it to their family several months before they actually departed. The children in both families perused their copy and reflected on the value of their friendships months before they had to say goodbye. I found this to be incredibly valuable.
3) We checked our calendar and made room for several extra playdates and special outings and events together, including hosting a tea party for the two moms and three girls. We all got dressed up and used our pretty tea set to share a special afternoon together.
4) Neighborhood Friendship Affirmations: Our friends’ last evening in Tianjin coincided with their children’s final neighborhood soccer time. I asked each of the soccer moms ahead of time to talk with their children about one word of affirmation they could share about each of the three kids and to send them to me by email. I compiled the affirmations and made a personal poster for Moyer and his two sisters. At the end of the soccer game, we gathered all the kids together and shared the poster and affirmations with them. It was a memorable event!
5) Impromptu Goodbye Photo Op: On the morning of our friends’ departure, my son, Ben, asked if he could bring his camera outside and take pictures of his friends. I thought it was a wonderful idea. He managed to capture those precious last moments with his best friend and their family. I was so proud of his initiative and thoughtful picture-taking. Perhaps somewhere along the way he picked up the importance of treasuring important events, even if those important events involve saying goodbye.
When I shared the pictures Ben took on Facebook, I was moved to tears by some of the comments made by others who have left our fair city – the impact of capturing those goodbye moments by a 5 year old stirred up emotions in others who know too well the ache of saying goodbye.
Goodbyes are hard. But that doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t be treasured in their own way too.
6) A trip to visit their new home: When we made our plans to visit our extended families a few months later, we intentionally checked into the possibility of passing through the area which our recently departed friends now call home. Although it cost a little more, and it took a few extra days away from time with our extended families, we were glad we made the effort to see them. Kim summed it up well when she blogged about our visit:
I’m so thankful that Ben’s family is teaching their little world travelers early in life that goodbyes don’t have to be forever, and that although friendships most certainly change with a big move, they don’t have to be over.
Buddies from before birth . . . may they grow to understand that continued investment in each other–across miles and years–won’t be overlooked in eternity either.
There was one other important level of “Staying Well” that I chose to be intentional about as a parent: being vulnerable with my children and allowing them to see some (though not all) of my tears and hear my voice breaking as I tried to share how I was feeling about saying goodbye. My own tears seemed to give them permission to cry too … and although their tears were short-lived (a few short moments during bedtime snuggles), they were very real none-the-less. We also talked about what life would look like when our friends were gone; how I would no longer be able to text Aunt Kim to let her know we were going outside and would she and the kids like to join us.
In addition to being vulnerable with my own sadness, I was also intentional about emphasizing thankfulness and hope. We talked about things we were thankful for about our departing friends, and also thankful for the friends who have remained in Tianjin with us. When a new family moved into our neighborhood we specifically talked about how gracious, good, kind and loving God was to provide more friends to enjoy and play with.
Since our friends’ departure, life has continued and we have all adjusted to the new normal. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. We keep in touch with our friends and talk about them from time to time, but as they are no longer in our immediate world, I think it is safe to say we have “let go” in a healthy way. Letting Go does not mean they are forgotten, or that we never talk to them or think about them; or that we will never go visit them one day again. Letting Go for our family has meant the process: first of giving everything we had to show them how much we valued them while they were still physically with us, and then sending them on their way with that affirmation.
Which have these have you tried? What would you suggest be added to the list?