On the morning of August 1st, I felt a shift. In the air. In the sky. In the wind. It felt different – the evening before had brought the first shower of cooling rain after months of dry heat. The clouds still held onto a gray lining and floated heavy in pale blue skies. The sun was slow to shine like she had finally been allowed to sleep in for the morning. A tired mother needing rest, so she slumbered just a bit longer. And while August is still considered summer according to calendars and to the earth’s axis, it does certainly hold a certain luster that feels a lot like a goodbye. Maybe it’s school starting back up or maybe it’s final camping trips or boat outings on the lake. The moon dancing into twilight skies earlier each evening. And I didn’t know it then, despite it feeling different, but this August would be a month of goodbyes.
I thought, or at least I thought before this August, that I knew what a goodbye was. This certainly wasn’t my first season of goodbyes. But somehow, just like the shifting air and heavy clouds of August 1st, my understanding of the complexities of goodbye felt different. Before this season, I understood goodbye to be an end. A closing of a chapter. A closed door. It held heaviness and grief. And I still believe it to be all of that. I believe all of that more than ever. But this season, I met a new goodbye. I met goodbye at a place of forgiveness. Of growth. Of grace. Of hope. This other face of goodbye greeted me differently and took my hand to walk through the heaviness.
Goodbye has always held the image of loss. It is the looming shadow of grief. I watched a family shattered by a goodbye this August. A young father, a son, a husband, a brother, an uncle taken from their family. I watched their goodbyes through photos in the form of hand-holding and text messages and videos of his son’s first steps and photos from his and his wife’s wedding day. And in every photo, the heaviness of the goodbye was present, but I also saw glimpses of this new goodbye. I saw memories upon memories of smiling faces and heard laughter and heard his voice in retrieved voice messages that spoke love and gratitude. I saw his young wife walk up the aisle of the church at the end of his celebration of life, their son on her hip with his legs wrapped around her, and she walked with strength. Sometimes a goodbye is so large, so overwhelming that we are reborn. A phoenix. We rise and carry on with a strength we didn’t know we had. Sometimes goodbye is a hello, an introduction, to strength.
There was this point a week into August and then again a week later and yet the next week again that goodbyes were so commonplace I wondered what might remain come September. It was a shedding of both unexpected goodbyes, the tragic and heart-ripping, and of the planned goodbyes, the here is the day we knew was coming. In the final weeks of August, we said goodbye to our sweet and loyal golden retriever, Winston. It was a combination of both the unexpected and expected. The loving heartbreak that comes with bringing a dog into your family, knowing that dogs don’t live long enough but are worth the goodbye. Winston was, and I say this bias but with honesty, the best dog ever. I was praying for a dog when he came into my life over four years ago, and I ended up with my husband for a bonus. When my children and I were leaving our home, saying goodbye to life as we knew it, and moving in with my husband, I was terrified I was making a mistake. This uprooting of lives. But when we pulled into our new driveway, Winston ran up to the driver’s side door. I worked myself out of the car, and he was incessant about handing me a rock he had picked up in the gravel. It was a house-shaped stone, and I took it as a sign that we were home. I was thankful for his signs. And then the week that Winston really started slowing down – no longer able to enjoy hiking; no longer greeting me at the door; no longer eating – I stood in the living room terrified we were making a mistake about saying goodbye to our best friend. An incessant scratch at the front door broke my trance, and Winston, his face white with age, stood outside and dropped a slobbery rock into my palm. A heart rock. I took it as a sign that he knew he was loved and that it was time. I was thankful for his signs. Everything has felt different these last few days without him here – I wake in the middle of the night to his breathing or barking – all sounds caught somewhere in a dream. Signs that he is running trails. Sometimes goodbye comes in the form of a sign, a recognition, that everything is okay. That we are where we are supposed to be.
Some goodbyes are so long in the making that we forget they are even happening. Motherhood is that. Eighteen years of memory-making. Eighteen years of lesson-teaching. Eighteen years of getting it wrong and then forgiving yourself. Eighteen years of doing the best you can, so that the day you say goodbye will feel like a celebration, like a surrender. This August held my 18-year goodbye. There was the packing and the loading and the tears in the driveway as my daughter said goodbye to her little brother. I thought about their goodbye often as my daughter and I caravanned the 400 miles to her college dorm. What that must feel like to say goodbye to your built-in best friend. For him, not a day without her. For her, the little human she helped me raise. And then it was our turn to say goodbye, us standing there in her newly decorated dorm. Dorms are such a strange middle ground of child and adult. Here is your laundry detergent and frying pan. But first let me crawl up there and help tuck in the sheets on your bunk bed. This goodbye was exactly what an 18-year goodbye should be – her excitement bubbling out of her. We wiped away rogue tears that weren’t made of sadness. Maybe those are the tears of surrender. Letting her go. She is yours now, world. Treat her well. Sometimes goodbye comes in the form of gratitude, a thank you, for roots and for wings.
Perhaps the most unexpected goodbye I said this August was to myself. Or at least to a version of myself. I spent years saying goodbye to darkness, so I could find myself somewhere in the light. And I did. I found her. I closed doors. Closed chapters. Hell, I burnt damn bridges. One goodbye after another. And I stood on the other side. Whole. Me. But this August, in the midst of mist, I learned to say goodbye to her too. The past found a way under the closed door. Words crept onto new pages. Wood from burnt bridges became paddles across water. Everything I thought I had said goodbye to years prior was standing in front of me. And I thought I had healed. Turns out, I am healing. Two very different words. Two very different versions. So, I said goodbye. To her. To the girl who thought she had healed. To the girl. To the woman who said goodbye to the darkness. Who slammed doors. Who closed chapters. Who burned bridges. I took her by the hand. Unclenched her fist and took away the matches. She got me here. To the other side. It is her turn to rest. We are not her anymore. Sometimes a goodbye is standing in front of the mirror, a reflection. A nod to all the versions of yourself that got you here.
As we say goodbye to August, to the end of summer, I wish for you peace. Maybe that’s what goodbyes really are – peace.