My Aunt Harriet hated “good byes”, so she never said them. I was very young when Harriet and her family moved to the Twin Cities. They made a good home there and raised a good family. They came back home to Wisconsin every summer for a visit.
Of course, there was the required big family reunion day when all of the cousins and relatives and friends got together to laugh and eat and enjoy being together again. Aunt Harriet always insisted that the family picnic was held on the final day of their visit. And it didn’t matter if we met at a park, or a restaurant or Aunt Margie’s house – at some point it would just become apparent that Aunt Harriet and Uncle Bob had slipped off quietly and headed back to Minnesota. Good-byes averted.
I thought that Aunt Harriet’s aversion to good-byes was peculiar until I grew up and experienced more of them myself. There were good-byes to classmates going into high school when some of us attended Catholic high school and some chose to attend the public high school. Then four years later my friend group totally scattered as we all chose different colleges or universities. And there were good-byes to girlfriends along the way that turned out not to be “the one”.
While those departures were difficult, they didn’t hurt like leaving my daughter at her college dorm, or watching my oldest son and his family drive away on their big move to Colorado. Those good-byes were like little deaths because the distance between us suddenly became so real and so large.
And of course, I have now experienced many of the biggest good-byes as parents and several siblings and all those aunts and uncles that used to be gathered around those picnic tables of the family gatherings of my youth have all gone on ahead to explore what the “other side of the veil” is really like. Final good-byes are the hardest of all.
This past weekend we attended the wedding of a great niece in southern Illinois. The wedding and celebration and following morning get-together were a joy. But the good-byes were inevitable. Part of me wanted to just quietly slip out when no one was looking like Aunt Harriet used to do. But it was my niece Tammy, who was also the mother of the bride, who provided a different insight. We had hugged tight and exchanged “I love yous” and we even made it out the door. Tammy followed. We ran into a final group to say good-bye to and Tammy joined in again. I smiled as she nestled into my hug. “You’re going to put yourself through all this again?” I asked her. Tammy squeezed me tight. “I never pass up the chance for some of your love.”
Yes, leaving people that we care deeply about is never easy. But these moments do remind us that we love and are loved. Never leave without saying good-bye.