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Expat Life: Saying Goodbye Well

Sigh…  Saying goodbye is one of the hardest parts of expat life.  That’s what it’s been all about for us for the last few days.

After almost three decades of goodbyes and hellos (I was an expat kid), it’s still really hard.  Harder than ever, actually, because now it’s not just me saying goodbye.  Watching a child go through the process, no matter how well they handle it, is painful.IMG_3200Friday was Jeff’s farewell lunch for his work.  I joined him and all of his co-workers for lunch at a local pub.  It was sweet to see so many people wishing us well and sorry that he would not be working with them any more.  Then after we picked Amelia up from school, we went to a former neighbor’s house nearby to have a final drink with him and his girlfriend.

On Saturday, we got ready for our usual weekend errands, but this time it was different. We had little to do besides showing up for the last time to bid adieu to the people we have seen weekly (or monthly) for years.  We saw our butcher and his wife for the last time, thanked them for being good friends, and told them the details of what we have going on for our move to Spain at the moment.  David gave us three thick filet mignon steaks for dinner.  We joked that they would have to seriously reduce their bacon production, now that half of their market was leaving.  Yes, we will miss them.

A photo posted by Ariana (@andhereweare) on

Next, we headed to the Bury market to say goodbye to our favorite vendors.  I had been earlier in the week to do the same with the vendors that are only there on Wednesdays.  We didn’t buy anything because we need to empty our fridge and cupboards this week.  That was weird.  And it was disappointing to not be able to find some of the people we had wanted to connect with.

After that, we drove to Wyken Vineyards for one last time.  Wyken has been such a special place for us– I have done photography and social media for them for the last couple of years, and the owner Carla is a dear friend to us.  In fact, on Wednesday, she had us over for a beautiful and heart-warming dinner in her historic home.  Over the years, she has been like a surrogate grandma to Amelia, and we all love her.  So that goodbye was hard.

Yesterday was a nice reprieve– just getting a lot of work done around here, without having to say any goodbyes.  A friend came over with a really thoughtful home-cooked lunch for us to share, and I pushed the goodbye back until Friday, when we’ll get coffee.

The parting I am now finding most difficult is between me and this house.  I love this house.  I spend at least 80% of my life at home, since I work from home and am an introvert.  It’s got issues, but this Victorian row house has been so wonderful, such a source of stability for me and my family for the last three and a half years.  This is the longest Jeff and I have ever lived somewhere together, and this is actually the longest I have lived anywhere, since I was Amelia’s age.

Not knowing where we will be living in Spain makes this transition harder.  I know what I am giving up, but not what I am gaining– yet.  Of course I believe that we will find a perfect little home that we will grow to love, but for now it’s just goodbyes.

I cannot wait until the Hello portion of this story.  It’s coming, soon!

There are some things that help with saying goodbye.  After saying so many of them, I have learned a few things that I’d like to share, in case you find yourself in a similar situation.

Saying Goodbye Well

  1. Don’t avoid saying goodbye.  It may feel better in the moment to sneak away quietly, but you will end up feeling worse.
  2. Say thank you.  Thank the people in your life, and tell them how they have made your life better.  It may feel a little awkward at times, but it’s important.  Amelia has done a really nice job of writing letters to certain people in the last week.  I have also seen her taking a moment to tell someone what she appreciates about them, and I am so heartened by her.
  3. If possible, say goodbye somewhere other than the airport.  This is something Jeff and I have been really intentional about from the beginning.  When we first left Portland to go to Germany, we decided to say all of our big goodbyes before our departure date.  This created a separation between the sorrow of parting and the thrill/ joy of our next chapter.  We wanted Amelia to be ready for a big adventure on our travel day, and not associate going to the airport with leaving loved ones behind.  I think this was a good decision, and we have headed to the airport alone on all of the three big moves we have made so far.
  4. Feel the feelings.  I started saying goodbyes regularly at a very young age.  We didn’t really talk about it much in my family, and there was certainly very little crying involved.  So I tend to be somewhat stoic about goodbyes, and I also want to protect my dear ones from the pain.  But I have learned that we all need to feel our feelings, in order to be healthy, and to be able to find closure and be able to enjoy all that is ahead.
  5. Comfort yourself and your family.  The goodbye season is rough– no matter how much you are looking forward to what is ahead.  I think it’s been harder this time than I had ever expected, since we have been wanting to move, and this is our dream.  But we are still uprooting our life and starting over, in many ways.  So, I have been eating a lot of ice cream.  I am not much of a shopper these days, but I have treated myself to a couple of things to use in Spain, and it helps.  We have been doing our best to pay extra attention to Amelia, and to brighten her days in little ways.  This kid loves pajamas more than almost any other gift, and so I bought her a really pretty pair of pajamas to wear on our first night in Spain.  This is her love language– so just go for whatever works for yourself and your family.
  6. It’s OK to lighten it up.  Two things have been really helpful with easing the hardest goodbyes for Amelia– giving her a gift to open or enjoy later (usually the person we’re leaving has done this, very thoughtfully), and making indefinite plans to see the person again.  I can’t promise that we will see each person, but I think it’s OK to not make a goodbye final, and to invite the person we’re leaving to visit– and to talk about how much fun it will be when they do.  And who am I kidding?  This really helps grownups, too.
  7. Know that a hard goodbye is actually a good thing.  On Saturday, in between goodbyes, Amelia had a little meltdown.  Through her tears, she told me that even though she’s super excited to move to Spain, she really loves England and feels sad to leave.  With a huge lump in my throat, I explained that I am so glad to hear that she loves England.  That means that she realizes that she has had a wonderful life here, that she has found friendship and love and happiness here.  What a relief.  It would be incredibly sad to leave a place we’ve lived for over three years, and not feel sad about it.  Being able to acknowledge our sadness has helped us to see all of the good we have enjoyed here, and to look forward to more good stuff in our new home country.  (And yes, I have tears in my eyes as I try to describe this.)

So, these are the things we’re learning.  I think we keep getting better at saying goodbye in a whole-hearted way.  We have a few more days to do this, and then it’s going to be Hello, Hello, Hello.  I am really looking forward to that!Saying Goodbye  A question for you fellow expats/ chronic wanderers: What have you learned about saying goodbye well over the years?

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4 Responses to Expat Life: Saying Goodbye Well

  1. Luanne Shackelford February 9, 2015 at 6:41 pm #

    This is really so good! You have learned things I wish I knew when I was younger. Saying good-bye is hard, and it only recently that I have allowed myself to acknowledge the feelings that come with leaving (again) the people you love.

  2. Joanna February 12, 2015 at 12:04 pm #

    You used a phrase that I have used for others along the way. It is important to say goodbye well and we have moved around a bit during the middle part of the last decade. I always hope people will stay in touch but they rarely do, but at least the parting is sweet

  3. Sheri February 21, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    I grew up with a military dad. We moved often. I remember one time at the age of about 10 years and living in Southern California, I got up-set over a move and my dad explained to me that the world was a very big place and there were new places to see and new friends to make. I kept in touch with my old friends through letters, but my dad was right. We moved to Illinois and had I not lived there I would have never experienced a “real” winter and the joy of having my very own ice rink or learning to ride a horse with an “English” saddle. The experiences I had are so close to my heart and I’m almost 60 now.

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