It’s coming to the end of the school year and everyone is finalising their plans for the summer – arranging holidays in Bali or back ‘home’ or away, and making final decisions about whether to stay in Bali, repatriate or move on to other adventures. The transitional lifestyle seems to be more prevalent in Bali than in Singapore, with expatriates here choosing to stay for shorter sabbaticals rather than longterm stays. So there are many more farewells.
But as we prepare to say our bon voyages to more friends, teachers and families and the dust begins to unsettle on what has now become the norm for our life here in Bali, the in limbo feeling (you know the space between things feeling normal and an imminent change or transition on the horizon) starts to arise. For me, this starts to bring up ways of trying to avoid saying goodbyes.
I look for ways to sneak out the back entrance at every farewell or gloss over the pain with promises of seeing friends soon in distant countries, which we often do (we have friends all over the world), but not always for a few years. And of course skirting around the one sad truth – that this is it. Things will never be the same.
I even managed to avoid throwing a farewell party in my home of 14 years, Singapore, promising to all my friends that we would return. We never did. This was also true of our four years in the States with my family where I graduated from high school – a quiet exit. No fuss. Quiet Goodbyes in an Autumn afternoon in Memphis.
So at school in our weekly parent Meaningful Monday sessions, a fellow adult Third Culture Kid arranged some discussions around the ritual of goodbye and how to do this well. We explored ways we looked at avoiding the pain and how rituals and ceremonies around saying farewell was an important process.
My avoidance of the pain of goodbyes has been one element of the resilience I have created in my twenty six years of living globally. It’s been my coping mechanism. A wall that was built with each goodbye. But I wonder if it is serving me well. Especially now as a parent raising a third culture kid. And I also know it’s not what I want for my gorgeous heart-centred little four year old girl.
She has already said goodbye to Grandparents and Aunties and Uncles, all who live in the UK and all of her cousins and second cousins. And in the space of three years here in Bali, the wonderful friends she has made who have moved on to South Africa, England, China, the US, Australia, Russia and New Zealand. She has taken it in her stride. It’s a wonderful experience to have friends all over the world, but it is important to process the experience of departing. It’s part of a global life. And it is sometimes more difficult for those left behind. I am used to being the one who left when I was younger, then as an adult living in Asia, it was me who was saying goodbye to everyone. Now we are the family left behind.
But like I say, I don’t feel my avoidance of goodbyes is serving me as well anymore and it certainly will not serve someone as sensitive and sweet as my daughter Finley which is why we approach saying goodbye more carefully with her.
For years, my rule has been to never allow family or friends to drop us at the airport. It haunts me back to when we left Scotland to move to the States when I was fourteen. It was the worst pain. The delayed goodbye. The nervousness of the time that we needed to go through to the departure lounge. The double edged sword of the swinging airport doors as we headed to our flight.
On one side all my family who knew me like no one else. Unconditional love and support. On the other side of the door lay adventure, the unknown and this exciting opportunity to live in America. It was hard to leave one for the other. It felt like choosing adventure over the closeness of my extended family. I hated that moment. Walking towards our flight in tears and turning behind to see through the airport glass doors all of my lovely aunties, uncles, cousins and my grandparents waving and crying knowing that life would never be the same. It never was.
So we never allow family to come to the airport unless it is just a quick drop off at the drop off point. That’s easy, simple and fast-paced. The 10 minute grace period of parking meters help with this. It’s like ripping of a band-aid (plaster), easier to deal with the pain if it is done quickly.
Anyone who has lived away from family will understand that moment in Love Actually. It’s Heathrow Airport, It’s the holiday season. Families and friends are saying their farewells at the airport. God Only Knows is playing, and the little boy is running to say farewell to his school friend who is moving back to the States. Don’t get me started. That movie has me in a dribbling mess.
But maybe we are supposed to feel this pain. Part of the human experience. Go through that process. Perhaps my avoidance strategy makes things worse and is delaying the pain and the grief. This usually happens. Much later. Usually listening to music or watching movies. Maybe it is better to go through the pain with the ones you love around you, surrounded by love rather than alone or thousands of feet up in the air flying and sobbing over a glass of wine and cheesy movie. My strategy aims to protect those that love me see me so upset and letting them see that I am strong. So far this strategy has kept me resilient, but I know that there is a better way, especially now as a parent.
I’ve promised myself that this year I will learn to say goodbye well, or at least try to face it heads on. Tears, emotions and all … Especially for my daughter. I will let you know how it goes.