Lessons for saying goodbye from JM Barrie

“Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting.”

~ JM Barrie,

Peter Pan, Or the Boy Who Would Never Grow Up

James Matthew Barrie, a child during the Victorian Era, grew up to write one the beloved tale of Peter Pan, Or the Boy Who Would Never Grow Up. As a child James’ older brother, David, died during a tragic ice skating accident. To aid his mother in her grief James – aged 6 – would wear his brother’s clothes and whistle in a similar way to the way his older brother had before his death. James and his mother found ways to grieve together, and shared the happy thought that David would remain a boy forever and never leave her.

Death, of course, is such a final goodbye, especially in such a tragic experience as losing one’s child to a traumatic, unexpected situation. Grief is hell, we all know that. But what about regular goodbyes?

I’ve never been one who is good at saying goodbye. Back in the late 2000s I worked at a large financial institution helping people give their money away to charities. The organization was moved out of state – twice – and my husband and I decided to stay here in New England (both times). It was a series of goodbye after goodbye. Most days when I knew someone was departing the office I would find my way to the kitchen for a coffee, or suddenly need a bathroom break. I don’t like the finality of goodbye. The awkward hugs, the “Let’s stay in touch” comments you aren’t sure have much meaning.

Maybe it’s my Pisces sun – flowing from situation to situation, like a fish swimming upstream and not getting too focused on what’s behind me. Maybe my empathic heart can’t stand the finality of knowing I might see someone again. Maybe everyone feels the same way and I’m way over thinking this.

I don’t know.

I met an amazing number of wonderful people working at that financial institution. Though it’s been five years since I stayed in Boston and they all moved away, I’m still friendly with many and would definitely high five them if I saw them walking down the street.

One person in particular has become a dear, dear friend. And later this month he’s moving on to another adventure out of state and I’m so fucking sad.

This friend become one of my immediate BFFs upon meeting each other. In any other circumstance our lives never would have crossed paths. We’re in different age categories, we have different lifestyles, and we DEFINITELY don’t read the same books (winky face, friend).  My heart knows I worked at that institution because the universe knew we needed each other.

I’ll never forget a day this friend was going through an extremely difficult situation and CALLED ME. I almost didn’t answer – who CALLS PEOPLE? But I did because I knew that he needed me. I sat on my bed and we talked for a long time. He reminded me what it meant to be a good friend to someone, to really help them.

We had adventures, too. Only with this particular friend would witchy, vegetarian, animal welfare activist, New Englander feel comfortable going to the State Fair of Texas. What an experience. We had deep friend cheesecake and saw a famous giant cowboy statue thing that burned down a or so year later. I sat shiva with this friend for the first time in my life when another person we both know had to say goodbye to her father. He even attended Baby Girl’s birthday party wearing a tutu because it was a mermaid/fairy/pirate party and he wouldn’t want to pass up a good theme.

This friend was also among the first I spoke to after a traumatic event in my life last fall. There was no judgement, and I knew I could share and over share and ask for help when ready. And he was there.

Today we had lunch, this friend and me. I was nervous of course – I wanted to hide in the bathroom and ignore the goodbye. But I know I would have regretted not saying goodbye. It was a quick get together – I have a tendency to always run late and had to work in the afternoon – but it was perfect. The sun was shining, the food was amazing, we went to a bookstore, and I got to hug my friend and make plans to stay in touch when he’s settled in during his next adventure.

Yes, a huge part of me feels like a giant part of my life is hoping on a plane and I’ll never see it again. But at the same time, we didn’t say goodbye. Goodbye is too final. I’ll always have this friend in my life, and can’t wait to go out and visit him for another crazy adventure in a place I’d never expected to go.

Love you, friend. I can’t wait to eat seven cakes and fourteen pancakes when you’re settled. -rk


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