This week I finished up my last week of teaching, two friends lost their mothers, and a dear work colleague passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. We only got the news of the work colleague’s passing the day after her funeral, which upset me more than anything else because the news didn’t get passed on to our school, where she was greatly loved, and many people would have wanted to attend her funeral to say goodbye. I also got the news of her passing right in the middle of a huge fight with Michael, when I walked out of the room and just happened to pick up my phone and see the email, which made the news even harder to take.
Sometimes you just need a good cry.
I hate goodbyes. Leaving people you love is not easy, especially people you’ve worked with for 11 years. I couldn’t even bring myself to tell my classes that I was leaving teaching, and that they would be my last group of students ever. Every time I started to tell them my eyes would water up and I couldn’t go through with it. Saying goodbye at the end of the year luncheon was hard, too, even to people I know I will see again. Our time will never be the same as those years spent teaching together.
Our next door neighbor’s wife had been gone for over a month and we were starting to think she had left him. When he came over to ask us to watch the house, we found out she has been out of town attending to her dying mother. A few days ago I saw my neighbor outside, who told me the news that the mother had finally died, three days before her daughter’s birthday. I felt so sad for her, knowing that her birthday would forevermore be accompanied by such sadness. The next day we were told that our former principal’s mother had also passed away, less than a year after her father’s passing, which was also less than a year after her brother’s death. Those goodbyes are perhaps the most poignant, the final goodbye.
I knew it would be hard, but when I said goodbye to my daughter outside her dorm the very first year of college in Austin, I wanted to turn back time, back to those days when she was small enough that I could protect her from anything the world might throw her way. I cried the entire three hour drive back to Dallas, my husband sitting helplessly next to me, unsure of what to do or say. Even though she wasn’t that far away and I would see her often, I knew, deep in my heart, that things would never be the same again–and they weren’t. She grew up and didn’t need me as much, which is a good thing, but hard for a mother to accept. It’s hard to let go sometimes.
And there are the goodbyes you never get to say, when those you love are suddenly and inexplicably taken away by death.
There are all the goodbyes we’ve said to our childhood pets, and to those we’ve had as adults. My good friend, Carol, a fellow teacher, inadvertently killed both of her fire-bellied toads, Twodee and Fruity, on the last day of school. She cried all morning, until one of her second graders yelled out, “Let’s get a fish!” She couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the comment on the last day of school.
My dad’s job transferred him from Dallas to Massachusetts the summer after sixth grade. It was a grand adventure for all of us. Our street was at the end of a cul-de-sac and it was teeming with kids. We spent the entire summer biking, swimming, chasing, digging, and doing everything kids should do, from dawn to dusk, outside and barefoot. It was the summer of the Munich Olympics, and one night our neighbor, a former National Geographic photographer, took us all outside and showed us the Northern Lights, something we knew we’d never see in Texas. It was also the summer of my first crush, when Chris, the cute newspaper boy across the street, would come out at dusk and we would sit against the fence in my front yard in the dark (with my dad nervously peeking out the window) and look at the stars and talk about Lost in Space, Time Tunnel, Star Trek, and Land of the Giants. A few months later, when my dad got transferred back to Dallas, I sat in the U-haul truck with all our furniture piled in the back and cried as I said goodbye to Chris and the best summer of my life. As we drove away and I looked out the window through the tears I tried to hide, Seals and Crofts sang We May Never Pass this Way Again on the radio (I swear I’m not making this up), and I knew that I would never be the same again. That song will forever be the soundtrack to that lost summer–and I never did return to Chicopee Falls, MA.
There are the goodbyes you say when you realize you must move on from a relationship, and the goodbyes you’re cheated out of when you get dumped by a lover. Cry me a river doesn’t even come close sometimes.
So many goodbyes. Before I closed the door to my classroom for the last time yesterday, I stopped and looked around at the empty room, remembering all the other rooms I had taught in. So very many memories . . . I said goodbye to room 201 and to teaching, turned in my keys, and went home and had a good cry. It was exactly what I needed to do.