When I was a young boy, my mom would gently wake me before my two brothers. It would still be pitch black outside, but since I was the youngest, I had to get up first to get a shower and get ready for school.
I never wanted to get up. It was always a struggle, in no small part, because I hated elementary school. My mom though encouraged me to keep trying and to give school a chance.
Once I was dressed, my mom would have my favorite cereal ready for me. While I ate breakfast, we would chat about little things, how school was going, about my basketball practice, whatever book I was reading.
We couldn’t talk for long. My mom carpooled with a neighbor from up the road and soon enough she would pull up to our house. As soon as we saw the car lights outside the kitchen window, my mom would gulp down the last of her coffee and give me a quick hug. She’d tell me to have a great day in school and to do my best. She’d then run outside for her ride.
I didn’t want her to go, but I couldn’t do anything about the situation. I would walk to the window and watch the car drive away down the hill. My fingers pressed against the window, I would stay to watch the last remnants of the car’s taillight fade away into the distance and only then would I take a deep breath and go back to getting ready for school.
Goodbyes are the hardest.
We went out to my car, a battered red two-door Renault Encore that was running on borrowed time with more than 175,000 miles listed on the speedometer. I opened the trunk and put in my bag and then opened the front door and made sure that my map and sunglasses were laid out on the front seat. I would need them on the way home. I closed the door and looked back at her. The past two days had been a blast, but I had to say goodbye.
We held hands and looked at each other. This was always the tough part. We’d make plans to see each other again the following of the week. My plan would be the same one I had followed every Friday: I would get into work early as possible, get my work done and get on the highway as soon as possible. With any luck, I’d miss the heavy rush-hour traffic, catch a break or two here-or-there and pull up to her Northern Virginia apartment in time for dinner and a fun weekend together.
But for now, I had a three-and-a-half-hour drive back to Pennsylvania and she had to plan her lesson plan for her class on Monday. The goodbye was always the hardest part. There was no way to avoid it. We’d put it off until the last possible moment. We would have several stops-and-starts until I finally couldn’t put it off any longer and had to get on the road.
We’d kiss one last time and then I’d drive away. I learned early that I couldn’t look back. I couldn’t bare to look back.
Goodbyes are the hardest.
My son walked my wife and I out of his commons area, the cafeteria and the place where he would get his mail. He had to head back to his dorm, now that it was organized and set-up, and my wife and I had to get back on the road to go home.
Less than 24 hours earlier, we had been a happy family. Now, we’d have one less person in our home. Instead of a family of five, we’d be down to a family of four.
I gulped. I knew what was coming next. I dreaded and loved this next part all at the same time. We had set him on the right path and now he was ready to head out on his own. We hugged the three of us and then he went his way and we went ours.
My wife and I drove in silence. She pointed to the highway to make sure I didn’t make a wrong turn. We didn’t speak for at least the first twenty minutes of the ride. My stomach felt like an empty pit. Finally, my wife asked if I wanted to stop for something eat. I shook my head no and said that I wasn’t hungry.
I was already worried about the next weekend.
My wife and I had to say goodbye again, this time to our daughter, who headed off to an internship in Washington, D.C. This time, we walked with our daughter from her new apartment to the elevator. We took it in silence to the first floor. We got off and walked to the circle where we unloaded all of her boxes just a few minutes earlier.
We once again said goodbye. We hugged and soon enough we were back on the road. We were again quiet for the first twenty minutes. I broke the silence, joking that my wife better love me, because everyone else in our house keeps leaving.
She laughed, hiding a tear, and said, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Goodbyes are the hardest.
I saw my friend four weeks before he passed, we had lunch. He spoke about his grown kids, I talked about my new-born son. He told me to enjoy the time.
I spoke with my coworker on the phone three months before her passing. We talked about how she thought she had really kicked cancer’s butt this time. I talked about a new project I was kicking-off. She told me to enjoy the time.
I spoke with my father several weeks before he passed. He talked about how he loved his grandkids. I talked about how their constant activities — everything from field hockey and football to birthday parties, and band concerts — were putting a dent into my sleep habits. He told me to enjoy the time.
And like that all three were gone. Goodbyes are the hardest.