The sorrows of goodbye

I drove my youngest daughter to the airport on Tuesday
night.  She’ll be away for six
It’s not quite the empty nest
syndrome, but when I came home earlier in the afternoon after two days at the
beach with my husband and grandsons, a terrible pall descended and I recognised
the nagging sadness of farewell. 
My daughter will return and the six months of her time away
will pass soon enough, but things will never be the same again. 
A trip like this is bound to be life changing, especially for
my daughter, who is going to expand her mind, despite her ambivalence about
On the trip in the car on the way home after we had watched
her go through the opening into the departures zone, where people queue for
ages to get through customs and to their eventual flight, I told my daughter’s
boyfriend about the reasons for my desire to avoid travel except when
For him, my daughter’s leaving is saddest of all, as they’ve
not been long together.  She’s been planning
this university semester overseas for more than a year, well before they
recognised their connection. 
In any case, as we walked back to the car after our tearful
farewells, I told my daughter’s boyfriend how it was when I was a child when
relatives visited from Holland, or in the case of one of my uncles and his
immediate family, from Indonesia. 
The joy at the airport, the pleasure of my extended family in
Melbourne coming to greet relatives from overseas and my mother’s delight were
all palpable. 

But at the other end, when it came to say goodbye, my
mother’s grief swamped me as she waved to her father, on that last time she ever
saw him after he had walked through those doors.  
My grandfather was already in his late seventies and soon after his return to Holland
he developed blindness and later died at the age of eighty-six years.
 My mother was not able
to be with either of her parents when they died.  And both died not long
after respective trips to Australia.  The trips must have taken it out of
them, those long journeys by sea and later by air.
I can still feel my mother’s pleasure against her grief the
moment I go through those electronic doors at any airport.  
The crisp air-conditioned comfort inside, the
reams of people lugging suitcases across the walkways up and down escalators,
the people who mill around signboards to read the names of destinations, the
flight numbers and airline logos splattered in neat lines that keep rolling
There’s a sign to let you know that certain flights are
closed and if one was your flight you’re too late to take it now. 
And one to
tell you your loved one’s plane has landed and you rush down the
escalator to the arrivals section underground where all arrivals
disembark.  And wait and wait and wait
until your loved one has cleared customs. 
People hang over the iron bar with you and wait for the doors
to open to reveal their loved ones who are coming for the first time or
returning from a trip.
There’s a buzz in arrivals with the occasional whoop of joy
when some new longed for person goes through the double doors and looks to
right and to left along the corridor that leads out in either direction. 
They look to find someone they know, someone who’s expecting
them and when they lock eyes on that someone there’s the mutual grin of satisfaction,
the squeals of joy, the brisk movements that signify they’re together at last.
All this joy at arrivals, but on the next floor above we see
the sorrow of goodbyes where couples hug one another, families like ours give
one last squeeze to a departing daughter who will be back soon enough, but the
ghosts of past relatives who once went through the departure doors –
my aunts, uncles, cousins and my grandparents – hover on the sidelines. 
These relatives could not return.  Their lives were lived elsewhere, but for a
while during visits, their lives joined ours and we could be together in the
flesh.  But in that first hello, as Gillian Bouras writes, we heard
the echo of their goodbyes. 
We’ll skype and text and use Facebook I tell my daughter and
she tells me the same, but it’s not the same. 
The virtual world is a poor substitute for the real one,
where people like me who are not big on touching cannot reach out to touch, to
stroke a cheek, to hold a hand, to pat a back.  The deprivation seems
unbearable even as when we are together in person I might hold my distance. Now the
actual distance divides more acutely than any skype screen can allow.
My grandsons are young. 
They will wonder in a few days where their aunt is, but for now,
although we have told them she’s gone away for a few months, they cannot know
what her absence means. 
They will recognise it only in a slowly dawning sense of

4 thoughts on “The sorrows of goodbye”

  1. This touched such a chord. We recently said our farewells to our eldest daughter as she returned to her new home in Australia after a short visit to us in the UK. She is now entitled to Australian citizenship like her sister who also lives there with her husband and young family and our only grandchildren. Added to which our only son now lives in California with his wife. We admire them and their choice of lifestyle and future and would not ask them to stay here for our sakes.

    In fact they all love London where they were born and brought up, as well as the rest of Europe, but sadly they see little future here for them despite their education and qualifications. And quite honestly we think that Australia is paradise compared to what is available to young people in England now.

    To say that we are bereft when we bid farewell after their visits to us, or ours to them, is not close. We are heartbroken.

  2. Our youngest son left, not knowing if it was the last time he would see his father. He had made a commitment and could not cancel his trip even though he knew he could called home at any time. Three weeks later he was on his way home.
    Three weeks after that he held his fathers hand as he died.
    I don't know which farewell broke my heart more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *