the nest

the nest

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saying goodbye

This morning I said goodbye to my husband and child as they headed out the door. To a funeral. For a 17 year old student and friend.  I'm not going with them for many reasons. Lots of things to do today. I need to pick up our son later. I didn't know the student myself. I can't bear the idea of witnessing the pain of her family.

For a long time I have felt that loss is so very personal. If I don't know the person who is lost or at least know their family I feel like witnessing their pain would be an intrusion on the most personal, painful experience ever.
I feel like I should be with my people to hold their hands, but I couldn't bear it.

We say goodbye all the time. Every day we say goodbye to our partners, our children, our friends, our colleagues, our clients and on and on. We say goodbye with the expectation that we will see that person again. Later that day, week, month, year, etc... We forget that sometimes goodbye is forever.

Sometimes we know when a goodbye might be the last one. Each time we have the opportunity to see my husband's Grandmother we know it might be the last time. She is 99 and while there is no reason to believe she will pass anytime soon, she's 99!

We know that after losing my Father-in-law unexpectedly that our parents are mortal and while we are lucky to still have 5 of 6 parents healthy and in our lives, we could lose any one of them at anytime. When we say goodbye we know it could be the last one.

When you say goodbye to your child as they head out the door to school most of us don't allow the idea that we won't see them again to cross our minds. For that to happen, it would have to involved a horrible accident or disaster. Opening that thought process is just a recipe for over-protection and paranoia.

Goodbye is something we just toss out to them, maybe occasionally adding an "l love you!". We are confident that they will get off the bus after school and we will see them again.

As children get older, start driving, heading off to college or living away from home, goodbye is a little more intense, a little more poignant. We know that we can't protect them from the world, but we trust that we've done a good job and they will make good decisions and use common sense. We are aware though that horrible things happen. We infuse those goodbyes with a little extra power and love and a prayer for their safe return.

Parents of children who are black, muslim, gay, even female, have the significantly higher fear that their child will be targeted, harassed, assaulted, killed.  As the mother of white children, one boy and two girls, I have had many fears for my son. I have never had to fear that he would be pulled over by police because of the color of his skin. I cannot even begin to fathom what that fear might look like or feel. I have felt the pain of listening to him recount stories of being bullied in school and only wish I had known, but I never really feared I wouldn't see him again.

As the mother of daughters I have feared for their safety. I have feared for their hearts as I've seen them deal with "mean girls," cliques, bullies etc. I have also intentionally raised them to advocate for themselves and others and they, along with their brother, are growing into young people who have a strong sense of right and wrong. A strong sense of social justice. A powerful need to stand up for those who are being oppressed. I still fear for my daughter's physical safety in the way I fear for my own safety as a woman, and have taught them to be watchful and protective of themselves and their friends. I also fear for the safety of their rights as women to have agency over their own bodies. To make decisions about reproduction without the interference of the far right.

When I say goodbye to them, all sorts of horrible scenarios could run through my mind, but I can't let them. I have to trust that the worlds they live in are by and large good ones. They are smart, caring, powerful people who will do their best to care for themselves and others. I have to trust that I will see them again.

Today a community of people will say goodbye to a lovely young woman. 17. Struck down swiftly and unexpectedly by a horrible illness. This goodbye is so final. So wrong. Her father has already had so many losses - a wife and unborn child, another son, and now a daughter. Too much loss for one person to bear, yet he does.

We can never take for granted the goodbyes in our life. Each one could be the last and what that means is each one should be said with love and an understanding that life is fragile. This last Thanksgiving my in-laws left early Sunday morning from their hotel having said goodbye the night before. As they got on the road, my Father-in-law asked if they needed to stop by the house to say goodbye so that our daughter wouldn't be upset. She understands how important those goodbyes are. At 17 she has said a final goodbye to more loved ones than I had at age 30.

Whether he would admit it or not, Grandfather's acknowledgement of the importance of her goodbye was an understanding that he too knows that each goodbye is sacred and not to be dismissed.

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