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?