Goodbye is part of life, especially for travel writers and expats. I said goodbye to a very good group of people recently. As someone who has made three big moves in six years, I should be accustomed to this.
I am not. Especially because I know I probably won’t see these people again.
The Very Good People I speak of are a refugee family from Libya (originally Somalia) who I helped transition here. I showed them bus routes and where to find jobs and taught them simple English phrases. They cooked dinner every Sunday. Heaping piles of rice and pasta with sides of bananas and salads. Never a question if I would stay and eat. They assumed and set up a plate and ushered me to the kitchen.
I worked with the family for a few months. As I watched them pack, (offering to help, but not knowing what to do), I noticed they still didn’t switch their clocks over for daylight savings. I should have explained daylight savings to them. I should have showed them where to buy rain boots and jackets. I could have done a better job as their appointed American mentor.
But it’s not about me.
I know that they have much more to think about. I am just one on the list of friends they said goodbye to. The family spent several months here settling in and had to move to the Midwest for better job opportunities and low-cost housing. After a frustrating and fruitless job search, The Father pulled up stakes. One week before the set moving date, he told me his plans.
His daughters, whose ages range from early teens to early twenties accepted what is. I didn’t witness tantrums or whining or fuss.
My family moved when I was a teenager and I had to transfer high schools. At the time, it seemed traumatic. I refused to put any effort into the move at all. I lived in denial until we were packing, when my uncle carried my beloved mirror, which I had carefully decorated with band stickers and photos to the trash. It felt liked he was trashing my identity. Everything had shifted so suddenly and I wasn’t prepared to say goodbye then. I needed more time.
I realize why this family is so much better at saying goodbye. They had to flee their home in Libya to live in a camp. You don’t even get a goodbye then. You just go. Imagine that. Imagine leaving everything you had worked for in a heap to live in a tent where you get one meal a day. It’s impossible to fathom. And then to go from living in a camp to living in a high-pressure, capitalistic country.
This what the father said:
“Money doesn’t matter. We were living the life there. I lived in a house with two computers and air-conditioning. Then the war was coming and I had to leave it all behind.”
As he’s telling me this, I feel like I am reading a novel. That’s how you know you have it good. When someone else’s life stories sound like fiction.
How to Say Goodbye
- Be positive about the situation. The Mover doesn’t want to hear that he’s moving to a terrible town or that the weather’s going to be awful or that he should stay. When the travel is arranged and it’s all set in stone, just accept it and ask what you can do to help.
- The art of saying goodbye in fact, involves saying goodbye. I was incredibly hurt when one of my good friends in Quebec no-called, no-showed my goodbye party. I haven’t spoken to him since. It made me feel like our friendship meant nothing. Go say goodbye, unless you have a very good reason not to.
- Think of the suitcases. Please don’t give The Mover that giant vase you’ve been waiting to gift her all these years. Packing is hard. My Quebec friends made me cards and cooked me food. It’s the simple, thoughtful things, not necessarily the most expensive that mean the most. Phone cards and gift cards will also be appreciated.
- Keep in touch. I talk regularly to some of my Quebec friends over Facebook. They’re first to say “felicitations” when anything goes my way. Every time time I visit, I try to see a few of them.
- Crying isn’t mandatory. I didn’t cry when my family left this past week. I smiled and talked about the transition and how far they had come since they first arrived in America. I didn’t want to make it any sadder than it needed to be with unnecessary tears.
- If you’re the Mover, have a goodbye party. Collect addresses. Gift small tokens of your appreciation. Tell people how much you’re going to miss them. Serve pizza so you don’t have to re-clean the stove. Have a “big goodbye” and reserve time for a few last meals with your closest friends. Don’t draw it out.
- Look forward. The few first weeks will be difficult as you watch all your friends hang out with each other without you. Stop looking at social media and start exploring your new city.