The Agony of a Long Goodbye

My family struggles with goodbyes. They seem unable to complete this simple task in under 24 hours. I feel I have failed them in some way.

They have no issues with goodbye on the phone. They say it, and then they hang up, which is good and proper, and expected, actually. It is when they are physically present where the struggle becomes real.

While I wrestle with feelings of failure in almost every regard, I have come to realize that this failing is not mine. 

I understand the definition of goodbye and utilize it on numerous occasions. When I say “goodbye” I have every intention of leaving. Right then, not four hours later. I consider it a verbal contract between me and whoever I am visiting. I am leaving, rest assured, because I said “goodbye.”

My family has apparently grasped onto the idea that “goodbye” is a random thought that they may, or may not, carry out. Whether my wife and I visit them, or they visit us, “goodbyes” are bestowed a hundred times before we ever achieve the result of a proper goodbye and leave. 

Since I understand the concept in goodbye, and my children do not, there is only one culprit for this malady, and she knows who she is. Just in case she does not, it is my wife. She will say “goodbye” and never follow-up on the commitment the word implies. In fact, that is usually when the conversations really get started, after she has already said goodbye.

All my children suffer from this condition and most of their spouses. 

But I have two daughters-in-laws who experience as much angst as I do when it comes to the unending goodbye. 

The “goodbyes” begin, and it is followed immediately by intense conversation that could last hours, days, weeks, who knows. They roll their eyes, pace, crochet a blanket, learn a new language, anything they can think of until “goodbye” results in action of the leaving kind.

I have learned to endure it, because I adore my wife and children, and accept that they have serious problems. When the goodbyes begin, I say my goodbye and then leave. I go downstairs to my office, or hide in the closet, considering on my mood. A couple of hours later I sneak out to see if the goodbyes have resulted in any movement. If they have, then I may say another “goodbye.”

My grandchildren, on the other hand, have absolutely no problem understanding the meaning of a “goodbye.” 

When one of their parents say goodbye, there are generally two results: weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, of they gather their things and head for the door. I have gone outside an hour after my children said goodbye to find my grandchildren gathered around their parent’s car, sitting on the concrete, chins cupped in tiny hands, their eyes rolling like marbles in their sockets.

I started to lose hope, until my wife and I met some of our children and grandchildren at Lagoon. We were there for five hours or so, and when it came time to say goodbye, I did so, and started to walk away, hoping that somehow I had the gravitational pull to bring my wife along with me. Unfortunately, I have no such hidden talent.

I didn’t want to walk back to where she was talking to our son, because that would just encourage her to keep talking, but I shuffled back a dozen paces, folded my arms, and stared at the blue sky, mumbling softly to myself.

Passersby would look at me, look to the heavens, shake their head, and keep walking. I get that a lot.

After a half an hour or so, our 4-year-old granddaughter looked at her father and grandmother talking, and said, “Nana, are you leaving?”

So, we left. Finally.

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