06 January 2013
.how to say goodbye.
Our lives (or mine anyway) has always been focused on the new, the birth, the start, the meeting. We are taught how to make new friends at school. Taught how to start the new year right. Taught how to involve yourself in the right things. There is even some emphasis on how to maintain - with you reach the difficult stage - the midway hump - the post-honeymoon. But who teaches us to say goodbye. In (my experience in) America we don't like to admit we ever have to say goodbye. We agonized about a trips' end, we make catch phrases like "this isn't goodbye it's just see you later", we prolong something (even dull or terrible) to prevent the EVEN worse reality of it ENDING, we whisper about death and hide it from ourselves.
Sometimes some of us don't even start in fear of the end.
So, how do we say goodbye? Do we just sit down on the unknown mountain side for a sign or better yet wait for someone to tell us its time. The truth is that just as we can't stop the earth for orbiting - death comes on its own time with its own agenda.
My Nana, Ruby Jean was diagnosed with Dementia/Alzheimer's about 3 years ago. It was a fairly rapid decline and during this time I was living 3 hours away and then 36 hours (of flight) away. I love her and have always felt close to her and knew that when the time was right I would be there (physically) with her but that she would be proud that I was traveling and working (although not the nurse that she told people I was going to grow up to be). A few years ago in one of her "typical" Nana letters with her hard to read cursive handwriting, she wrote for half a page about the weather and then a family update and then at the very end snuck in the sentence "you will have a gem in your crown for all the work you are doing down there (Ecuador)."
I believe that we love others by loving and honoring ourselves.
So I knew I had to go to Malawi despite this diagnosis but when I reached the 8th month I just had a feeling that it was time to go home and be with her. I left my job 1 month early. I felt guilty - I had made a promise to the position and I failed to keep it. I didn't know how to say goodbye yet I knew that it was time to leave. I didn't trust my intuition but despite this my emotions said to pack up. I arrived home to find my Nana in a completely different mental state. It was just the right time to come home.
The brain is amazing, beautiful and confusing.
That first month I got home I had a handful of really great moments of being with Nana. I like to call them windows, windows of clarity. My Mom and I had spent the day with Nana and helping around the house, we were just about ready to leave for the day and I was in the back bedroom putting the sheets on the bed and Nana came in from outside. I was trying to quickly make the bed because she no longer remember how to do those things, but this time she walked right up to the bed and started telling me just how to do it (Nana is very particular with household duties). We finished and she looked at me right in the eyes, started to cry and said, "Alicia I wish you didn't have to take care of me like this" and then hugged me so tight - in one of those hugs that would change the world even if just for a day if she only could. It was such a tender moment one I will always hold dear to my heart. That is when I started learning to say goodbye, in that very private moment between my Nana and I. In order to truly love and honor her presence in my life I had to start the journey of her leaving my life.
I learned to say goodbye by intentionally being present in the moment (isn't that is all we will ever have), finding the beauty in the ugly and the peace in the chaos, finding the lesson in the pain and the teacher in the enemy.
These past 5 months have been more intense than 2 years in Ecuador or 1 year in Malawi because it wasn't a beginning (I know how to start) - it was the ending. It was saying goodbye to something I have always known, a staple in my life, a strength that I didn't realize I was leaning on. It was the start to letting life - moments - truth - lessons wash over me like a salty ocean wave while not letting it knock me over and not getting out of the water but feeling the wave and then letting another wash over me and another - smoothing my rough edges with every surge wearing down my shield to a sweet vulnerability until it's my time to say goodbye to this world.
There is such immense beauty in the goodbye.