The Art of Farewell

Disclaimer: this entry is not written in self-pity, even though it is definitely something I’m dealing with right now.  It is a reflection on the art of separation, with which I have remarkable amount of experience.


I have said so many goodbyes in my life . . . so many that they numb me.  I am an expert goodbye-er.  The anticipation is the worst part.  Imagining your life without something or someone who is deeply ingrained into your everyday existence.  Those people who know how you are with just a silent glance.  The people who shared something significant with you that no one else did.  Strangers that you have grown to trust with your life.  Siblings from other mothers who know even better than your blood family when you want the hospital to pull the plug.  The ones you laugh uncontrollably with and share those inside jokes that everyone else rolls their eyes at.  Platonic “Other Halves” who ground you and neutralize your emotions, and the Sisters who just let you cry it out.  The ones who hug you.  The ones who tell you to knock it off.  The ones who know just what to say and just how to say it so that you become a better person.  The people who know all your dark places and still tell you that you can do it.  Even if you don’t see or talk to each other for days, you know they are close by in the place where they always are, and that makes all the difference.  And all the people who let you be that person for them.  Even the people who are an unending irritation fill a void . . . the irritation is a part of my existence, something I can count on.  It’s one thing to let go of one at a time, but how do you let go of them all at once?  How can I imagine a life without all of these people infiltrating my almost every waking moment?  I can’t.  It’s moments like these that I realize how they hold me up.

It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).  It always struck me that out of all the amazing things God created, His crowning glory, his Magnum Opus . . . The situation of Man, made in the image of God . . .  was the only thing God declared “not good.”  Adam had GOD, chilling in the garden with him every day, but it was NOT ENOUGH.  God was not enough.  And God said that, not me.  People need people.  God actually made us with a need that, by His own admission, He cannot fulfill.  Wow, right?

People tell me not to worry.  Your friends won’t go away just because you change jobs.  No, they won’t.  But they will.   They will morph into different kinds of friends.  I’ve done this.  A lot.  I know how it works.   Our dynamic hinges on sharing the same struggles, the same drama, the same frustrations that we deal with every day.  Our relationships exist because we are crammed in a space of land for at least 40 hours a week, because we share the pressure of molding lives despite the obstacle course we have to race through to get it done.  This is the glue that holds us together.  And let’s face it: outside of work, our lives rarely – if ever – blend.  And, again being honest, relationships take work and time . . . time we just don’t really have.  So without the time and being crammed together, each relationship will shift, slowly or quickly, in one of three directions:

1.  Absence is noted and felt, but the gap fills quickly.  These are actually the least painful goodbyes.  Perhaps a bit whimsical.  These friends fade slowly from your consciousness, and eventually their memories are peacefully stirred by a photo or an anecdote.

2.  Tears and hugs.  We have shared memories, grown together, laughed and cried together, probably argued a bit.  Separation is painful, and the hole left behind is huge.  But over time, it fills in.  These people are your familiar friends, you smile when you think of them, you stalk them quietly on Facebook, eventually you’re just fine without them.  They are the people who have changed your life and are now absent from it.  But whenever you get together it’s like you never left.  The trust is there, the stories and the jokes are alive; you still understand nuances, expressions, and body language.  There is familiarity always.

3.  Then there are the goodbyes that you truly dread.  The ones that are like cutting your arm off.  The ones you think about, cry about, have nightmares about, and that keep you awake at night.  But when the moment comes, the actual goodbye and walking away, there are no tears left to cry.  You’re just relieved that it’s over, finally done.  You are numb, and your emotions are shut off.  You are surprised at your strength, because you expected to cry like a sick baby.  These are your family, your stronghold, and you have no idea who you might be without them near because their presence has been and is such a part of who you have become and what and how you are.  Eventually it hits you that this safety is gone, and you grieve again; but it’s a different grief, because the loss is now real – different but not unlike what you dreaded.  It is tainted by a strange numbness.  And these are the people that will always be no further back than the middle of your mind.  You’ll think of them at least once a week for the rest of your life.  You might not see or talk to them much anymore, but they will remain a part of you – the jokes, the advice, the adventures, the arguments, the growing up together . . . all become infused into who you are.  And this is where it’s true that these friendships will not go away.  You will always know them and they will always know you, because you have been such a part of each other’s becoming. A texted word, a phrase, a look – even after years apart – will still communicate what it used to.  No matter how you have changed in the meantime things will still click because our true self, our souls, the light of our eyes, our smile . . . they stay forever the same.

I don’t know exactly what determines who is what kind of friend.  It never turns out the way I expect it to. And most of the time, it seems like you’re not the same kind of friends to each other. I do know that there’s no way I could handle too many friends in each category.  Our minds simply couldn’t cope with all of that.  The past must fade so that the future can materialize.  It’s not a bad thing – it’s like moving . . . the important things always stay with us, but some things must be released.  It’s almost cruel, but it’s true . . . not all relationships are forever.  But it can be painful, oh so painful, to let go!

Again, people tell me not to worry.  Well, I do.  I’m terrified.  But my experience also gives me peace.  I’ve done this.  A lot.  I know how it works.  Farewell is an art, and to do it well you must intuitively understand its intricate details, the spinning ballet of relational change.  You must learn to embrace it all fully . . . the sadness and grief intertwined with the freedom of new beginnings. I tend to grieve prematurely.  It’s ridiculous.  Then I go numb.  Then I really fall apart for awhile when reality hits.  And then . . . I move on.  Turns out it’s actually easier when you’re the one leaving.  I don’t have a hole to fill . . . I’m walking into an empty field ready to build.  The emotion fades into quiet and occasionally overwhelming appreciation for the people I have been so very blessed to know, for the people God placed in my life because He knew I needed them and they would help refine me into the person who I’m supposed to be.  And then, because I know it is not good for man to be alone . . .

I look for the new people.


About Thoughts by Sallie

I am a missionary kid who grew up in Mexico. I have 2 first languages. The two most amazing places that I have seen stars are in the Amazon rain forest and at the Sea of Galilee. I have moved 34 times in my life. I think that working with at-risk foster kids for 5 1/2 years is a greater accomplishment than earning a master's degree. My most favorite meal is popcorn, apples, and cheese. I am happiest when I am being hugged by a child. Jesus is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? My life's dream is to help children become more than they could ever imagine. I have Attention-Deficit Disorder, and I take medicine every day that helps me to think straight; it's not a cure, but it sure does help. I get lonely and feel very isolated sometimes. I love nostalgia. I HATE shallowness. I love taking pictures of windows. I am most proud when I see my friends grow and accomplish new things. I am most motivated by my love for and commitment to others. I am overflowing with thoughts. I am an ellipses. I am Rasha.

2 responses »

  1. Hi Sallie-

    I was just wondering if you might be working your new job with Catholic Charities in Santa Clara County?



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