My brother Aidan recently said goodbye to some dear friends inspiring this blog post. I am no stranger to saying goodbyes. I had to say goodbye to my family when I went thousands of miles away for college. Then we said goodbye to family/friends to move to China. Then we said goodbye to friends of 6 years in China and moved to Taiwan. And we live in expat communities where people come and go frequently and they leave a hole in your heart each time they go.
At first, I thought because of the choices we’ve made to travel and move internationally, we are “experts” on saying goodbye. But I am beginning to realize even people who settle in one place have to say goodbye more frequently now because it is the mark of our generation in this increasingly global world. No longer does one stay near the city they grew up in, find a job, and retire there. Most people move for various opportunities and it is no longer a novelty to move internationally.
When we lived in China, people/families will literally come stay for one or two years and then leave. And in an expat community, your friends are more than your friends, they are like family. They are the people you celebrate holidays with, they are the ones who love your kids when grandparents are far away, they are like family. And when they move away it hurts like hell. As mentioned before, this happens a lot in an expat community and a human heart can only take so much pummeling. Some of us cope by toughening up, tears no longer flow at farewell parties because farewell parties are annual events. Some cope by not getting involved in deep relationships because you know they will leave and you want to keep your heart intact. Some plow through and dive right into every relationship, giving oneself fully, and allow the pain to seep through you completely when the goodbye rolls around.
I think to a certain degree we use a bit of all three coping mechanism in our lives, depending also on the relationship with various people. No one likes goodbyes but it is a reality for most of us in this age. We wade through the stages of grief with each goodbye, and then we sit and watch God surprise us with the fruit of each friendship we parted with. We receive letters (alright emails/facebook messages/skype) from far away friends and share in the joy of what God is doing in their lives in their corner of the world. We remember each memory of shared times and how it changed the very fabric of who we are so we can better bless those who are around us. And sometimes, when we are very lucky, they reenter our lives because our world is so small.
One time, an expat friend was only in our community for a short time before they were leaving. He told us their plans and said, “don’t stop hanging out with us because we’re leaving…” I will tag you in this blog post and you probably don’t even remember saying that to us, but we didn’t stop hanging out with you and we had a very short time with your family, but we don’t regret it for one bit! (it was Tim Maxson. 🙂 )