Saying Goodbye: Books are Like Children and Old Friends
I have four children, and I adore every one of them. But perhaps because I have four, empty nest syndrome was never a real problem in my life. When the first three took off, one after the other, the fourth was still around for years. And during that time the older three returned at varying intervals in varying ways, or at least stayed in touch so we could reach them at a moment’s notice. We’re still a family, and thanks to the miracles of modern technology, we’re still close even when we’re miles apart.
I was proud to see my children fly free, convinced from the start that preparing them to go out into the world was my real job as a parent. I was glad to be successful.
Luckily I never had to say goodbye. I said “see you soon,” and I have.
A week ago I said a final goodbye to my latest novel, The House Guests, during a live chat with friend and author Diane Chamberlain. This was my last promo gig, conducted over the internet, as most publicity is these days. Now the book must fly (off shelves hopefully) on its own. Cassie and Amber, Will and Savannah, must proceed on their own without my imagination to guide them into the next phases of their lives. I wish them well. It was time to move on.
I’ve been thinking about goodbyes a lot this past year. In 2020–and still today–all of us endured more than a year of “goodbyes” to normal lives, to the pleasures of friends dropping by, of traveling to see family, to indulging in longed for vacations. We said goodbye to jobs, to disposable income, to goods and service we took for granted.
On top of the goodbyes we all shared, sadly I’ve had to say goodbye to numerous friends who passed away in the past 18 months. Many of them were my friends here in Chautauqua, New York, where Proman and I spend our summers. Some were at home in Florida. Some were neighbors and some lived far away. Some I knew well, some I had hoped to know better.
Some of these goodbyes were simply due to aging. I’ve reached that point where I can no longer say of many friends “but he was so young!” Most of the deaths I’ve experienced were not those of young people, but friends and family who had lived long, useful lives and will be missed by everyone they left behind. We were honored to have known them.
What most of us couldn’t say this year was a proper goodbye when we needed to. On Sunday my husband conducted a memorial service for a wonderful man we’d grown to love. He died in 2020, and this was the first opportunity to memorialize him. Many more of our friends have had no service, no ceremony, no sharing of stories among friends, no “Do you remember when?” moments. Most of them never will.
Quite possibly the last thing you want to do right now is think back over the past months to find whatever meaning you can in what’s gone. But the things we suppress are the things that will rise up in the dark and shake us from sleep. Let’s name our losses, the people–if you lost anyone dear to you–and the other parts of daily life that are changed forever. And then let’s move on together.
Even if I can’t share stories, I can remember, cry, and then set the sadness free. Like all the things I’ve loved, my friends will come home again. I’ll be reminded of them when I walk by their homes or read a book I know they loved, play Mexican Train, watch a neighbor’s rose bloom and know she would have been delighted. I’ll remember the way Bill always brought us ginger snaps, and Jane always brought pickled beets. I’ll remember Rich’s artisan bread and Joan and Jim’s generous invitations to enjoy a glass of wine on their front porch. I’ll still turn around when I hear their voices in a crowd, but I won’t feel sad when I realize I’m mistaken. Instead I’ll be glad I remember them.
In the words of E.B. White, “You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
And isn’t it?
So well said. You have captured the feelings of so many of us in words we have been unable to express. Thank you, Emilie.
Thank you, Linda.
That was so wonderful . Your writing always is so inspiring. I bought your book and had it sent to us as I cannot go into stores since the pandemic began. I will be reading it after our two book club books that I have to read. I already took a sneak peak at it and know I will absolutely love it. Edie (Edythe)
I hope you do, Edythe.
Thank you for this posting. I just lost a new but dear friend and I am still finding it difficult to accept. I live in a retirement park so most of us are 65+. Therefore you know from the beginning of the new friends you make you will loose some. Some are just acquaintances and some you really become close to. Thankfully you have some good memories ❤️.
Goodbyes have been especially hard in my family this year. The biggest being my nephew who passed suddenly last July. The losses kept on coming too, two aunts passed and just this last week another person I have know forever passed. The weight of the losses has been heavy, but I know that they would not want us to grieve for them, but to live a good life and spread our love to the ones still here.
Grief has it’s place, but so does moving on. You have to feel your way, don’t you?
Our neighbors were all older than we were, so like you, these deaths weren’t unexpected. Just so sad because you never really prepare. Isn’t it good, though, that we’ve been surrounded by people we care about?
Well said! Losing family and friends close to our own age certainly makes one think and reflect more on our own lives.
Having just finished The House Guest yesterday, this was a very appropriate topic. Great book, by the way. I’m particularly bad at goodbye. I always have been. I hate them. I refuse to do them. They happen anyway…. My big brother once wisely told me to “Let that shit go”. This has become my mantra. It applies to so much in my life. Fear, anger, sorrow, loss, worry, the ridiculous what ifs, my refusal to hold on to all the good- say goodbye and let that shit go. Easy to say, hard to do.
Thank you for your writing and your insight. I love being able to get lost in other lives. The only downside is I always want to know what happened next…. My best friend had an extraordinary gift of being able to continue the story. We spent hours over a pot of tea continuing stories. I miss that. I will do my best to “continue ” Will, Savanah, Cassie and Amber’s story in my imagination. Thank you again for characters that are so real I’m compelled to continue.
I’m so glad my books provide a chance for my readers to exercise their own imaginations. You’ll have to tell us what’s up with Cassie and Amber in the future.
It certainly does.
Recalling the little things that characterize a friend’s or neighbor’s or relative’s lives seems to me to recall who they really were–not their accomplishments noted in what a late uncle once called his “I love me” wall. Rather, a favorite color for a quilt being carefully pieced, a bloom from an old-fashioned rose bush saved from the garbage when a neighbor “redid” their yard and dug it up, a much-loved song enjoyed by a fellow chorister. The “real” memories that continue to mean so much.
Lovely images, Kate. Thank you.
Thanks to Linda H., Delores, and Kate Vale for expressing what I wanted to do before but couldn’t. Emilie what you posted was so beautiful. We lost our daughter at almost 46 years of age from complications from the flu in March of 2017. Thank heavens our son and daughter in law and grandsons and our daughter’s children are all right. They live far away from us in another state but thanks to facetime, zoom, etc. we are as close as ever. Also, this pandemic brought out so much kindness from our neighbors as my husband is undergoing chemo every week since Aug. 2019 and both of us are handicapped so our neighbors have been acting like they are our “children” and shopping for us, checking on us etc. What a blessing to look back on our children, their lives, our friends and relatives etc. But it also hurts to watch some of them pass away but the memories of them live on.
I am so sorry Edythe. You’ve had such a rough time and I’m glad your neighbors are stepping up. Looking back is a mixed bag, isn’t it? It took me awhile to write about this. But looking back is now more of a joy than a sorrow. I hope it is for you, as well, and I hope your husband’s health is improving.
Thank you for this! It was beautiful, and much needed.
I’m glad it was helpful.