Saying goodbye to a loved one takes many forms when you’re an expat and traveller. But should we take a chance for ‘goodbye’ lightly? There’s a song I’ve been listening to on repeat recently by a great group out of Glasgow, Chvrches. The track is called Asking For a Friend and is the lead song from their 2021 album release Screen Violence. A lyric near the beginning strikes me every time: “I’m no good at goodbyes”. Those few words resonate strongly and have reminded me lately about the value of “‘goodbye”.
As I write this and reflect, I realise I should add context before continuing with my story. This is the first post on our site in well over a year. While the world stood still this past year thanks to a nasty virus that’s taken over our lives and plans, it seems our website also got the memo to pause on proceedings. We have been plagued by errors and technical issues that rendered much of the back-end useless. But without the motivation to create, it didn’t matter anyway.
Say goodbye, without saying goodbye
This leads me back to my “goodbyes”, or lack thereof. I’ve said a lot of “see you laters” in my life. Perpetually chasing the next travel plan and living as an expat necessitates this strategy. Plus, “goodbye” has always felt so final. I’ve never been one for dramatic departures. I’d rather make it swift, rip it off like a band-aid, so to speak (then have a good cry in the airplane toilets and not to make a scene). I never wanted a fuss made, especially if I was on my way to where I needed to be. It’s just part of life’s rich tapestry, as my Dad would say.
2020 gave me more perspective on all of this though, and has made me wonder, is there more value in a proper “goodbye” than I’d previously given credence to?
Ignoring an opportunity for a heartfelt goodbye is perhaps underplaying how important it might have been for the person on the receiving end of my goodbye. And, perhaps it was sticking my nose up at a privilege that I should have been grateful for. After all, we hear stories each day of heartbreak where we can safely assume that the loved-ones involved had no chance for “goodbyes”. That, my friends, is ever so sad.
No chance to say goodbye to people or place
Last year… oh wait, I lose track of time… Going on nearly two years ago, we sat at an apocalyptically empty Heathrow Airport. We were forced, for a number of reasons, to leave somewhere that was without a shadow of a doubt, home. We had to pick up in Australia and start everything all over again. When we left England, there was no opportunity for goodbye. COVID was in full flight, the entire world was shut down.
We could not say goodbye to our loved ones there, nor our life. As dejected as I was sitting at that deserted airport late in March 2020 (eerie given Heathrow is usually heaving with commuters and people hurriedly shopping up a storm in Harrods or if you’re me, Accessorize), I never imagined in my wildest dreams that we’d still not be allowed to go back even now. I’m in Queensland, Australia, and still now we have no clear roadmap on how to travel freely around Australia, let alone internationally.
It all makes the fact we could not say goodbye even more difficult to take. It does not get easier. People have explained to us that we still mourn our life in London because we did not get to say goodbye. There was never an end. No closure that we can acknowledge.
Saying goodbye to a loved one, for good
There was a poignant goodbye in 2020. An actual moment saying goodbye to a loved one, forever. One painful moment, but one that was better to have happened than not.
It was Wednesday 6 May when my Dad said he wanted to tell my brother, Josh, and I, that it was “time for him to say goodbye”. He’d been lying in a bed for weeks. His body slowly, painfully and cruelly deteriorated. A once active and proud father, business owner and globe-trotter himself, now rotting away from cancer – unable to move, eat, drink, live. Stubborn to the end, his body held on – too long.
On that day, Josh and I sat with him on his bed. In a very odd twist, we both smelled death in that room that day. We both described it like that to each other later on. I can’t tell you how we knew, but we did. It was a telling and foreboding sense – very hard to process and accept as ‘true’, but it was clear to us.
By this point, our Dad had real trouble talking. He’d all but lost his voice and had zero energy. But he told us that he now needed to go, and that he wanted to say goodbye that day. In floods of tears filled with love, gratitude, regrets and fear about pretty much everything coming from that point on, we did just that. We said goodbye to our ultimate loved one, and for me, I faced my first permanent, real, and excruciatingly raw goodbye.
It’s October 2021 and I can only just bring myself to think about this moment. It was the last time I saw my Dad in this realm. I know he’s still around, but that’s a story for another time.
Hello, what’s next? :)
I stand by my original sentiment on “goodbyes” – they suck. Especially when they’re directed at people, places or experiences that mean the world to you. There is something to be said about having them though.
Since researching this topic and becoming aware of times when I’ve avoided goodbyes in the past, I have discovered some helpful resources and discussions. One is here, on The Five Reasons to Say Goodbye, and another from The American Psychological Association on why goodbyes are so important, whether it be to a person or a stage in your life. I now know I’m not alone: it’s difficult subject matter to talk about sometimes, and even harder to act on. But the awareness that we should go deeper, is really important.
We’re currently still stuck in an unrealistic and unreasonable travel ban throughout Queensland and Australia. I do hope we’re all rid of it soon (I’ll be very happy to say goodbye to many COVID rules, if I’m honest – get vaccinated, people – seriously). I’m hopeful we’ve got many “hellos” in our near future, and while they may be brimming with tears, they’ll be happy ones, as we are reunited with the people and places we never got to say “goodbye” to all those months (years) ago.
If you come across this post, drop me a line in the comments. How do you see it? I’m, you know, asking for a friend…