521. Good-bye

People move to different homes a lot more than they used to. It’s a lot harder to develop a sense of community than it used to be; stability makes community easier, and stability isn’t around as much any more. But there are still connections children and other people make, and I think it’s important to be aware of the significance of those connections. When a family has to leave a community, I think there ought to be a way for people to recognize the reality of their departure. Some parents try to downplay that reality, hoping to avoid trauma, and make their departure seem more routine than it is. But for some children (and adults), there’s nothing routine about it.
I know that good-byes can be difficult, but I think they’re important. It’s important to give everyone involved a chance to celebrate people who are leaving, and give voice to whatever feelings there are. Slipping out the back door doesn’t allow that. I moved away from West Hempstead, New York in 1955, and there was no good-bye party. Andy, Barbara, Mark, and other friends knew I was moving, but there wasn’t any kind of ceremony. I have a friend who still remembers moving away from Stamford, Connecticut after she’d finished ninth grade. There was no good-bye ceremony when she left, either. Now, years later, both of us still remember the hollow feelings those departures left.
I don’t mean there has to be a formal affair. It doesn’t have to be catered. A sound system isn’t necessary. But the silent system I’ve often witnessed (“Don’t talk about the move; it’ll just upset him/her) is really counterproductive. I know emphasizing the process of leaving can bring out sadness. Tears often make some people think something wrong has happened. “Good-bye” is not a bad word, though. True, it can hurt; it can really sting. But “goodbye” can mean, “You are important, and the sadness you may feel about our not being together is also my sadness.” It’s a very different message from the one people get from a silent, secret departure: “Maybe there’s something significant about what we’ve been to each other, and maybe not.”
I would not have written this article five years ago. I was one of those people who avoided funerals, retirement parties, and other forms of farewell. And for most of my life, I’ve wanted my own funeral to be a thoroughly joyous occasion. Not one that implied, “Yippee! We’re finally rid of him!”, but one that celebrated the joy I’ve felt throughout most of my life (so far). Now, I understand sadness better, and I understand the very human need to say “good-bye” when someone is leaving. And I think it’s important to make sure there is some way to provide closure. Even – especially – if it’s sad.

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