I come from a family of terrible leavers. My parents and later, adult siblings, might come for a visit and then on day 2 or 3, we would wake up to just find them gone, long down the road before we were even up. When I left Durango at 18 and started moving around as a young adult, I carried along some of these patterns. I think back to boyfriends, college roommates, and neighbors who were pretty significant in my life at a particular time, but I just moved away from without much of a goodbye.
I am pondering why just slipping away felt like what I wanted to do. I have chided myself before for being self-centered, insular, but I’m not sure that is the heart of it. I am actually a slightly shy person, so the confrontation and intimacy of goodbyes raises my anxiety a little. I think, too, that I didn’t believe that I was that significant to these people to warrant a formal parting. I possibly assumed they would wonder what I was going on about if I made a little farewell speech to them about their importance to me.
While we were working at Singapore American School, Anton, then only 10, and I had the opportunity to take a workshop on how to leave well that changed my life. The presenter, who is famous in international circles, was David Pollock, author of the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. If you are unfamiliar with the term “third culture kids”, Dr. Pollock developed this description:
A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.
The workshop that day was designed to help children, who are living in a different culture and possibly move frequently, have a strategy for parting. He called it building a RAFT, which is an acronym for the steps one should go through. Here is how you build your RAFT for saying goodbye:
Reconciliation- Don’t leave relationships loose-ended. Say what you need to say to people so you can both go peacefully and not try to avoid one another the rest of your lives. People who move frequently can delude themselves into thinking they can just leave awkward relationships behind, but they end up taking that emotional baggage with them, which could even affect their abilities to form significant relationships in their next locations.
Affirmation- Tell people that they have been important to you, that you have appreciated the time you have had together, and that you will miss them. There are two sides to a parting. There is the one leaving and the one being left behind. Both sides of the relationship need to know that they have been of significance to the other.
Farewells- Touch base with all of your favorite places and people, knowing it is your last time. The final weeks or days before a move can get so hectic with goodbye parties, but you must also fit in time to go to your favorite beach, take that walk you have loved, or eat at a favorite restaurant one final time.
Think about your next move- You have to get excited about where you’re heading toward or you won’t have the momentum to take you there. Think about ways you can change your life for the better with this move. Cast off commitments and possessions that aren’t making your life better and only take along what you love and need. Get excited about all of the new possibilities this move will present.
Getting this strategy has helped me become much better at goodbyes. I have made this a ritual and I don’t wait until I am entirely leaving a place to practice it. If someone I work with is moving to another grade level and we won’t be working as a team anymore, I tell him how much I have appreciated our working relationship and friendship and how I hope it will continue. When I leave the US in the summer, I try to leave behind a string of affirmed relationships, making sure people know that I do miss them and think of them when I’m gone. I also make a point of noting or experiencing favorite places, restaurants, and events. One of the most poignant observances for us is the bi-weekly transit of the Alaska-bound ferry, passing right in front of our house as it motors toward the Strait of Georgia. We count down the ferry passings until it is finally the last one of the summer….
I am trying to help my sons be better at leaving than I was at their ages. Gabe left Bellingham is a big hurry in December. He needed time and space to do some thinking about what he wanted to do next, but he left a few unresolved conversations with people. Some people were really hurt that he didn’t say goodbye or let them know he had changed plans they had together. He got a couple of scoldings on Facebook and his brother had to make some explanations for him. He will need to reaffirm those relationships and rebuild a couple of bridges when he gets back and I know he will do that. He is leaving Tunis on Tuesday and even though he has just been here for 5 months, he has circles of people who love him and need to know he will miss them and that they have been important to him. One of those groups is his assorted school chums from Habib Bourguiba Arabic school. If you have ever wondered who goes to study Arabic in a place like Tunis and why, well here they are. They are just other parents’ children from many different countries who are continuing with some Arabic they began in high school, perhaps have a parent from the Middle East, or see speaking Arabic as a valuable skill to their futures. The common language amongst them is second quarter Arabic, a limited vocabulary base, for sure. What is lovely about this group of unlikely friends is that they have stretched themselves to employ any and all language commonalities in order to communicate. Listening to Gabe on a phone call with one of them is a melange of simple Arabic, a little Italian or Korean, a smattering of French, and some English slang. They are buds and they will miss Gabe terribly. He will miss them, too.