Not Goodbye

by Joanie Butman

I’ve written for years how late August/early September is a season of goodbyes and new beginnings - none more so than this year as I debut in the empty nesting arena. Not having my schedule dictated by the school calendar is a little disconcerting as I watch harried moms scurrying around and school buses rolling by. I am now sitting at our beach cottage feeling like I stayed at a party too long (not that I would know what that feels like of course).

My friends and family know I’ve been looking forward to this new chapter, but that anticipation didn’t soften the blow of closing the door on the childhood phase of parenting. I was totally caught off-guard by how emotional I was dropping my son at school and my daughter at the airport for a semester abroad. My penance, I suppose, for all those years wondering (audibly at times) why anyone would be upset sending their child off to school, whether it be the first day of kindergarten or college. Shame on me. Actually, it was almost a relief because I was beginning to think there was something seriously wrong with me as I wasn’t dreading their departure like so many of my peers. At least I know I have a heart now. What was it the Tin Man said when Dorothy was leaving? “Now I know I have a heart…..'cause it’s breaking.” 

Ironically, one of my devotionals the day I dropped my son at school was entitled, “Let Go!” It began, “Entrust your loved ones to Me; release them into My protective care. They are much safer with Me than in your clinging hands.” Nothing I didn’t know already and something I’d thought I’d already done years ago, but surrender isn’t a one-time event. It is a minute-to-minute choice to trust that God can take better care of them than I ever could – without His own emotional baggage in tow.

I purposely drove home alone from Virginia where I deposited Doug, hoping the nine-hour trip home would give me plenty of time to process this momentous occasion privately. Even though it was a teary ride, I think I set a record for cycling through the five stages of grief. By the next afternoon, I was already clearing out his room! I hauled out bag after bag of clothes long outgrown, old school books, homework from grade school and accumulated useless ‘stuff.’ Just so you know I’m not totally heartless, I left all the trophies – for now at least.

Two weeks later when Hannah left, I sat in my office sifting through thousands of pictures from her childhood with the movie I made for her when she graduated high school on continuous play. It was pathetic - reminiscent of a teenage breakup where you sit and torture yourself listening to every melancholy song about breaking hearts and unrequited love while eating cookies and ice cream. Carole King's Tapestry was alway my 'go to' for such occasions. I was embarrassed for myself, but it was quite effective. Next day I tackled her room.

A little earlier in August I bid farewell to my beach buddies as they began a cross-country adventure towards a new life in Seattle. I sent them off with lots of love and lollipops for every state they drove through. Unfortunately, my geography isn’t so great and they came up short towards the end. Just as with my own children, I was sad to watch them leave but excited for what awaits them. Plus, we will continue to share years of beach memories during their extended summer visits. Maybe even more than when they lived in the same state.

Being a member of the sandwich generation, I feel like there will be more good-byes in the not-too-distant future. As summer slowly fades into fall, I bid farewell to lazy days, lobster dinners, the ocean, and our summer neighbors: my in-laws. Even though they are in good shape for their age, at 97 the length of their future is more uncertain than most. Every goodbye nowadays is said without knowing whether this will be the last.

A couple of years ago, my father-in-law decided he didn’t like the idea of saying goodbye so he refuses to use the term. He changed it to “see you later” or “see you in a few months” – always something open ended. When I asked the reason for his sudden aversion to saying goodbye, he explained that the term sounded too final. His ultimate departure must be growing heavy on his heart. The fact that there are now always tears in his eyes as he sends us off leads me to believe he must be thinking the same thing, “Will I see them again?”

Goodbyes come in many forms – some sadder than others. The following is the chorus of a song I sent both my children as a farewell. Though I’m not sure my in-laws share my Christian certainty, I left them the same message when I left today. 

This is not goodbye

It’s just “I love you” to take with you

Until you’re home again

Choosing to let go is never easy, whether it be a person, a pet, a place, a home, a career, a dream, a habit or even a hurt. However, remember, "no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). 

Choose to let go and let God.