Goodbyes just plain suck. All of ’em. To hell with ’em. We weren’t built for ’em. Especially the permanent ones. You know, the ones where you know it will be impossible to see your loved one’s face again, on this earth? Those ones. They freaking bite. When you know that the next time you’ll meet eye-to-eye will be when your journey is complete. And, right then, you have no idea when that day will come and it feels like forever away.
Indefinite goodbyes suck.
Indefinite goodbyes without the hope of reunion suck even more.
I’ve been trying to explain goodbyes to Austyn these last few weeks because she’s gonna be missing some sweet friends of hers very soon. I’m her momma. I want to prepare her. So, I’ve been trying to tell her that, because of our move up North, she won’t be attending her awesome little Montessori school here in Seattle anymore.
Today was her last day. And on the way to school, I tried to warn her again. I didn’t want her to freak out but I didn’t want this day to slip by without her realizing it’s seeming significance. I told her that today there should be long hugs and extra kisses. In my heart, I know that these kids that she’s made into friends and the teachers she’s made into family will fade into the background soon.
But, she didn’t really seem to understand. I know this isn’t goodbye forever necessarily. We hope to visit back to her school a few times in the coming year at least. But, the day to day will be gone. Every day she doesn’t have school during the week this past year, she tells me she misses her “fwends.” I am nervous for the day she tells me this, this coming week. Break. My. Heart.
I’ve never really liked goodbyes. Not to my parents when they left for vacation when I was a kid, not to my friends for summer break, not to my bestie when we chose colleges that were states apart, not to the baby I never got to meet, and DEFINITELY not to my husband when he died of cancer just five years into our marriage. No, definitely not then.
I remember crossing the hallway between our master bedroom and Austyns nursery in the early morning, just hours before Nick would leave this earth. I had been watching his chest rise and fall for the last half hour, not much unlike the past two weeks. However, this time, when I had been awakened by my usual alarm to give him his next dose of pain meds, I noticed right away that something was different. The hospice nurses had warned me that would happen. They told me that his breathing would “change.” I had worried that I wouldn’t be able to tell. “You’ll know.” They had assured me.
And, I definitely did.
It was coming… Our final goodbye. I had spent the last two years saying goodbye to small parts of my husband, small bits of us, and large chunks of me that had been tangled up in him. First it was goodbye to cancer free conversations, then date nights, then grocery outings, then morning coffee, then goodbye to our sex life… Next came goodbye to his lucid words, goodbye to his sound advice and goodbye forever to our flow of conversation. Then, goodbye to his kisses. Goodbye to his voice and then his whispers. It was obvious that this real last goodbye had been a long time coming. And, yet, my heart felt so surprised. Already? We hadn’t had near long enough.
That last night of his on this earth was also the very last night I breastfed our little girl, Austyn. (Last night of breastfeeding because my milk supply cut off the very next day. The stress of losing my husband’s life proving too much for my body to handle along with sustaining my little girl’s life.) I remember wondering if I was nuts to leave Nick alone in that room, but I knew Austyn needed to eat and I had a strange peace that he wouldn’t leave me until I made my way back to his side.
As I crossed the distance between the two loves in my life, angels were with me every step of the way. God was physically present. I felt Him there, in the house. I felt Him in my bones. And, though, I was trembling and heartbroken, peace flooded me like none I’d ever felt. I remember caressing Austyn’s soft little hand as she sleepily drank and letting tears roll down my cheeks as I thought of not only my loss, but hers.
Nick died when Austyn was barely 9 months old. She hadn’t walked yet or talked yet. She hadn’t learned to count. Or ride a bike. It just all felt so unfair. At the very very least, it seemed a girl should have her dad for her first soccer game, for her first dance, even for her wedding. My heart ached for her and shattered for me. Split wide open, right down the middle, for us both.
Looking back now, I realize a silver lining that I hadn’t seen then. The innocence that was preserved in my little girl. Obviously it would have been an immense blessing if Nick had been able to live his life into the years that will eventually reside in Austyn’s memory. But, he didn’t. And so, my sweet girl doesn’t know goodbyes like I do.
As we passed Greenlake for the last time on our way home from school today, she told me something.
“My teacher sad today.” She frowned in the rearview mirror and I longed to see the dimple that shows when she smiles.
“Is she baby? Why do you think?” I asked.
“Because it my last day at school.” She said.
“Yeah. She’s going to miss you, sweetheart.” My girl captured hearts there, even through her terrible twos.
“Yes. BUT!!” Austyn’s eyes twinkled and that dimple appeared fast as her smile grew. “She will feel better soon maybe. Maybe I will give her a hug someday and she will feel all better. Soon, mom. Let’s see! She WILL feel better. Not tomorrow. But SOON!”
My sweet child. My heart swelled with pride and with grief, happy and sad tears threatened to brim.
I know she will miss her friends and her teachers come next week. But, I also know that she will make more friends.
I made a conscious decision long ago, with the help of my God, my pastor, my grief counselor and countless psychiatrists studies, that I wouldn’t share my grief with my little girl. At least, as best I can. I share my grief with you, with the world, with other adults in my life. But, not with her. Not yet. She’s been far too young to understand goodbyes of this magnitude. And, I’m trusting that decision even more now.
Nevertheless, she has surely seen me cry and have hard days. When as a single momma, I just couldn’t keep those tears from falling to the floor.
And, I don’t know if it’s so much that, or just who God has made her to be, but she is honestly one of the most compassionate toddlers I have ever seen. Her heart is on her sleeve and its pure as gold, untarnished. She’s got her bad days, I assure you, but her tenderness and care for others is as plain as day. She puts others needs first, especially if they are having a hard time. She pats backs, asks to kiss boo boos and all around wonders aloud “You doin okay in there?” And, I pray my daughter and this love for others always stays that way. It’s the very best gift she could ever possess.
In all her childlikeness, I realize how very much I strive to be just like her. And, sometimes, I really do accomplish it.
A sweet acceptance that a “someday reunion” is good enough. And, that living life for JOY in the meantime is all there really is to do.
Goodbyes suck. They sure do. But, you WILL feel better. Maybe not tomorrow. But, soon! <3