Home » Creative Nonfiction » On Goodbyes

On Goodbyes

I remember when I left Russia, I told a friend proshai – farewell. She grew angry and implored me to instead say do svidaniya – until next time. Russians use this as goodbye, like the French say au revoir, or the Italians arrivederci. Proshai carried with it a cold tone of finality that my friend didn’t quite like, though it turned out to be sadly accurate.

Goodbye is an absurd word – nothing feels “good” about it at all. Well, actually Godbwye – “God be with ye,” is the mother of this devastating term. It seems fitting that such a calamitous event be allayed by God.

Goodbyes never seem to get easier. Parting is something with which I am woefully experienced. In fact, like many other members of a more itinerant generation, I’m practically an expert. I’ve bid farewell to Winnipeg, Istanbul, Waterloo, Moscow, and Kigali over the past seven years, and Ottawa will soon be next.

As great the temptation is to euphemize a parting with “See you later,” I find that “goodbye” or the even more permanent “farewell” is usually more accurate. We say “Let’s stay in touch,” or “We’ll see each other again soon,” with absolutely no regard for the power of distance and divergence. We whimsically utter these words with no cognizance of how much effort and volition is actually required to stay in touch across distance and time in a meaningful way.

We may keep in some form of touch, at least for a while, and might even see each other again, but it won’t be the same. It’s like finishing a book – you can always read it again, but it’ll never be the same as the first time. How happy I’ve been to reunite with friends from the past, and how difficult it soon becomes to make conversation after we finish catching up, realizing that we now live separate lives.

Sure, there’s always Facebook, but the land of “BRB” and “TTYL” isn’t exactly the epicentre of heart to heart conversation. Well, to be fair to the online, one of the first times I heard “I love you” was through MSN Messenger, but even that defunct forum was positively personal compared to Facebook. Social media makes it easier to stay in touch, but renders that touch less intimate. In the past, writing letters took longer and was less convenient, but the more “lengthy” process demanded a higher calibre of dispatch. Thankfully people still take e-mail reasonably seriously, and Skype provides a face to face conversation, but even those modern tools are only small slingshots in the battle against the kilometres.

I find goodbyes awkward, often surreal experiences, and never quite know what to say. Conclusions are often the most difficult part of a story. There’s often an impulse for a group goodbye, but they usually end up contrived and impersonal, destroying all semblance of intimacy and replacing it with affectation.

The sense of loss often sets in either before or after the moment of parting. At some point in the preceding days or weeks, we realize we may never see our friends again, which rouses us to spend more time with them. This of course causes us to feel their loss even more when we finally bid adieu.

“In every parting there is an image of death,” wrote George Eliot (pen name of British novelist Mary Anne). Goodbyes are indeed a sort of death knell. Perhaps not of the friendships, but of the experience, the shared journey.

Of course there are friendships that reside far beyond geography’s lethal grasp, laughing in the face of distance. “A friendship that can be ended didn’t ever start,” wrote the French poet Mellin de Saint-Gelais. Philia, or the platonic love between friends, is perhaps not as sexy as its cousin eros – romantic love, but it’s the purest of all the loves. No sex or jealousy to muddy the waters. No mandatory filial piety. No professional incentive. Just the pure joy of voluntarily shared company, of dipping into each other’s souls every once in a while.

Shared experiences are the sea upon which friendships sail. They solidify the bonds between us as we pass through them together, especially when there’s a storm. Shared joys bring us close; shared suffering brings us closer. The harder the experience is for outsiders to comprehend, the closer the ties between those who have endured it together. When they speak of it, they speak their own language. As the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “Nothing, in truth, can replace that companionship. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions.”

But one must remember that like funerals, goodbyes are also a kind of celebration. The closer the connections we’ve made, and the more significant the experience, the sadder the farewell. I remember sending a final text to my friend Stefan from the windy deck of a Ukrainian ferry on the Bosphorus in Istanbul when I was leaving Turkey seven years ago. “Leaving isn’t easy,” I wrote. “That’s because you had such an impactful experience,” was his reply. It was true, and this thought provided some comfort. He was always wise, that one. Perhaps I’ll send him an e-mail.

You can find my other creative nonfiction pieces here.

65 thoughts on “On Goodbyes

  1. I associated completely with everything that you’ve written here, having just left Houston after four months of an exchange semester there. You summarize pretty well what it felt like to say goodbye! It’s definitely been a lot harder than I expected, but unless one looks positively at the situation, it is very likely he would spiral into some sort of mourning for the past to relive itself.

  2. See you later (at the cabin, more specifically). Nice piece — I like how you weave literary quotes into everything you write. Do you google ‘goodbye’ to come up with that supplemental stuff? Don’t tell me you have these quotes simmering in your back pocket. I’ll be too envious.

    • I read a lot of quotes and other stuff (I like Wikiquote the best), but I’m always afraid of reading too much and having nothing original to say myself, so before I do that, I write everything I can think of in one giant paragraph.

  3. Wow man, this is one of the most poignant pieces I’ve read in a while…Literature lives! :) Thanks a lot for sharing, and make sure to send Stefan that email, or better still, break out the fountain pen and the writing pads!

  4. “Philia, or the platonic love between friends, is perhaps not as sexy as its cousin eros – romantic love, but it’s the purest of all the loves. No sex or jealousy to muddy the waters.”

    Oh, if only …

  5. I have never heard that quote – “A friendship that can be ended didn’t ever start,” but I love it! I find goodbyes difficult, but I do not feel that assurances of continued contact are really a bad thing. I find that goodbyes are often hardest in the moment and that time helps me move on. If, in the moment of goodbye I believe that some contact may continue, it makes the moment less difficult to bear and I find that as time passes it is easier to accept that contact may not continue.
    Enjoyed your post – thanks for sharing!
    Blessings
    -Jen
    http://thelilyandthemarrow.wordpress.com/

  6. my wife absolutely refuses to say “good-bye”, and despises the times that I impulsively say it myself. For that very reason, that “good-bye” sounds like you’re never coming back. Good read, looking forward to more!

  7. Interesting! In India too, the use of ‘good bye’ is restricted. I had my friends from the Gujarati community who would often correct me if I would bid them adieu with a ‘bye’…thy would ask me to instead say… ‘aavu chu’ Gujarati term for – I shall return.

  8. Leaving is never easy and no matter what we say, good bye or farewell, see you or whatever else, the feeling of sadness is there just the same. There is no running away from but it. The Arabic Ma’a salama ( may peace be with you) sounds rather comforting. So does the Hebrew Shalom (Peace). No helpless promises of future reunions ;-)
    Great post !!!

  9. i was incredibly naive when i moved from colorado to california thinking that see you later would do it because i knew i would see my friends again and figured facebook would be good enough in the mean time. well that hasn’t been the case and it has meant eventually saying goodbye to friends and by then it wasn’t pleasant because i felt i’d been forgotten and that’s never a good feeling. i wish i had said goodbye then because then at least i would have felt more comfortable knowing where those friendships were at then fooling myself into believing that things wouldn’t change so drastically. this is so eloquent and well written! you expressed all that i’ve been thinking on the last several months so much better than i could have – thank you!

  10. So very true. My family moved every three years, so as kids we mastered the art of goodbyes. Like you have mentioned in the end, it was bittersweet, we knew we’d miss our old neighborhood and friends, but we looked forward to making new friends and exploring new neighborhoods. For a few months after, I’d stay penpals with my old friends, and then we’d fade away. Strangely, as an adult I’ve continued moving. But with FB goodbyes aren’t as final, for even though it may not be heart to heart, I’m still somehow in touch with my friends. We won’t be complete strangers when we meet ten years later.

  11. Great post. I too hate goodbyes. I lived in Taiwan for two years and Hong Kong for a year. Saying goodbye to the people I met and the places I loved there was really, really hard. I still want to go back, but the reality is that it’s not going to happen any time soon. I like your thought that goodbyes can also be a sort of celebration. The meaningful friendships—those are the hardest. And the best… You’ve just made me more determined than ever to get back to Asia, lol.

  12. I feel the sting of self-reflection in this post. I particularly found poignant your evaluation of the validity of saying “see you soon,” “talk to you later,” etc. I tend to allow myself to use such terms, knowing very well that I have no intent (or at least not the will) to follow through. I say it because it seems like the appropriate thing to say. If only we would measure up our little daily happens against truth (or what’s most likely to be the truth). I’m afraid we’d all find that our thoughts and actions are much more superficial than we’d like to think. Thank you for this stimulating post. It stings, but in a healthy way.

    • “The sense of loss often sets in either before or after the moment of parting.” it’s just numbing to be in that moment of parting. for a moment you’re numb but then the pain echoes through eternity.

  13. A beautiful piece of writing that I am glad to have stumbled upon. It really deserves to be Freshly Pressed.

    In my opinion, friendships are made even stronger when there is a finite sense to it. It’s like life. It wouldn’t be all that special without death, right? If we were immortal, would life be as wonderful as it is? And so, if friends could stay proximally close forever, would that friendship really mean as much without the threat of the impending goodbye? Just my two cents.

    Thanks for sharing this post! I will surely come back to this blog for more. Also, I have a new writing blog that I created after self-publishing my first novel for the Kindle. Please check it out and share your writing experiences with me!
    http://gdalexander.wordpress.com/
    -G.D.

  14. I could never say goodbye in a final way, I aswell am one of those people who think saying the word Goodbye is something nasty,forbidden and vile, because upon saying it or hearing it , the reality of how fragile each and every of our relationship really is emerges and hurts. I also always think that if I can imagine myself saying one day a Goodbye to you, I should not even start with a Hello.
    I am very glad freshly pressed brought me to this gem of a writting,thought and conffession!

  15. i hate ‘goodbyes’ – it all sounds too final, blunt and finite. nice piece of writing and some beautifully moving imagery. and you’re right. there is nothing good in ‘goodbyes’. thought-provoking and stirring. thank you for sharing… :)

  16. wow. If I had not read this it would have been a great loss. You are a natural at writing. It was easy to read, easier to associate with the thoughts and it will be easiest to come back to your blog for more.

  17. goodbye . i never thought about the comination of the word so true there is nothing good about it .thank you for opening this window what you penned is the rushing breeze
    thank you for sharing
    best wishes
    zara

  18. I had a moment quite like this after I left Russia a couple years ago. I had visited for the summer and had formed a really close friendship with my cousin. At the end of that summer I said good bye and found it nearly impossible. That fact made me realize just how close we had gotten. Anyways, this was a beautiful and poignant article.

  19. I just said good bye yesterday to someone whom I have been living a year together with. I was a little sad but on the other hand, it felt like the best change for everyone. And having prep myself up at the beginning of the friendship, I didnt feel as sad as I might be as I expected the parting since day 1. The sadness part sets in when things come to an unexpected end when we expect things to last forever.

    Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts.

  20. interesting, the construct of GodBye (in linguistix class i remember the prof when discussing the history of the englisch lang-wage, mentioning “the great vowell shift” — musta been when godbye became gooodbye.
    which, of course, and i suspect you know this, spanish also leaves everything to god, adìos. amigo!

  21. I don’t believe in “goodbyes” because I don’t think they exist. Sure, you may not see someone again for awhile, but that isn’t goodbye. You WILL see them again. I am a very religious person and I know that, when someone dies or moves away…whatever the case. One day each and everyone of us will be reunited once again. I find a huge comfort in this, especially when someone passes away, it isn’t goodbye, its more like … they are going to a different place for awhile and I remain here until its my turn. =)))

  22. Hi, you just explained exactly how I’ve been feeling, after leaving a job I worked at for 2 years, I grew so close to the faculty, staff and students — and my officemate especially – I love what you said about friendship, and “Shared experiences are the sea upon which friendships sail.” The two of us – we saw each other through so many joyous occasions and hardships too – and leaving that office, it was one of the hardest things I’ve done (this far) in life. Anyway, your story was touching – thank you for sharing. -Heather Decker

  23. Having grown up in Hawaii I love the word aloha…hello, goodbye, love. It makes a goodbye seem so much less painful as if there will be some opportunity to reunite even if far in the future. I lived on the island of Hawai’i for 38 years and just moved to Maui a couple of weeks ago. I tell people, “it’s only an island away”, but I know it’s more than that. There is an ocean between islands that is not easily crossed. And, yes, there is email and Facebook, etc. but the intimacy is lost and friendships change because of it.

  24. Excellent post about goodbyes. As an expat who has lived abroad for the last 3 years, I know how hard it is to say goodbye, or farewell, or whatever term you want to use, and I agree with your friend Stephan who says it’s difficult because the experience was so “impactful.” It is heartbreaking to lose touch with the people you care about; that’s part of why I’ve decided to give up the expat life and return home. It will take effort to reestablish the connections that I used to have, but I want to work hard to get them back. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! :-)

  25. your post is most apt! i resently met a friend after a long time and sadly realized that we have moved on with our lives. The friendship isnt what it used to be. I am so sad.:(
    great blog!

  26. Relationship just ended is probably the most fatal of goodbyes. I don’t even know why I find solace in your post. Thank you so much. This is so beautiful.

  27. Well said! A throughly enjoyable Read!
    I find myself using expressions like, ” See You Later” or “Ciao For Now!” a whole lot, these days. Often times it is an empty statement that was very little validity to it, but the older I get, the harder it seems to be to say “Goodbye”

    Anyway, Since I have just decided to be a follower of your blog, I can honestly say TTFN (Ta Ta For Now) and feel as if I truly mean it :)

  28. This is such a beautiful piece. Some goodbyes have been harder than others. When the goodbye is because of a physical distance, it is easier to accept. But when goodbyes are because of an emotional misunderstanding, then that really hurts.
    Great post.

  29. I hate goodbyes and even if i know the parting is forever, i am hopeful of meeting again someday. Your writing and emotion is true, honest and rare – it is tough to be so strong and confront byes. loved your post. absolutely powerful. congrats on being freshly pressed.

  30. This piece broke my heart. I can relate because all of the thoughts here are so real to me. I remember I said goodbye to my crush in Graduate school. She was asking me why I said so; I said nothing and I looked at her with sadness. And I don’t know why. Then I lost her. We never spoke again. It was one of the worst heartaches I experienced in this life. I don’t know why.I think it’s meant to be that way.

  31. Brilliant piece!
    There is nothing good about a goodbye… especially for people who get too attached like me. Too attached to everything : the people, the places, the smells, the details. I hate that I have a so good memory that remembers details because, once it is the end, the absence of every detail hurts…
    http://www.lesbaronnes.com

  32. All good-byes are the same. We always have that fear of losing each other, that’s why we have to make it special, so we can remember all of the good moments ;’)

  33. I never really know what to say when it comes to bidding farewell until after they leave. Its like my brain only switches on the second they leave and all the words come to me too late and even when I can say the words, they never flow as well or sound as coherent as they do in my head. I, personally, always build up goodbyes in my head that never turn out as I wish they would.
    I have a friend who I see and talk to very often but anytime we have to say goodbye to each other after a visit, we still get emotional even while were saying to each other “i’m gonna call you tomorrow anyways” or “its not like we’ll stop talking”. Even though we always stay in contact, sharing a moment over the phone isn’t quite the same as making the moment together

  34. Reblogged this on Pensamientos… and commented:
    “The sense of loss often sets in either before or after the moment of parting. At some point in the preceding days or weeks, we realize we may never see our friends again, which rouses us to spend more time with them. This of course causes us to feel their loss even more when we finally bid adieu.” – most striking to me.

  35. I´ve passed through the ´”good bye!” stage as well, when leaving Russia. I left some friends behind, the place where I was born, was growing up and got to taste of life experience. Now, only frequent telephone conversations with my mother connect me to the motherland, and rare visits. Every time I come to a new place, I start doubting the existance of the previous one. Good-byes are not as difficult as their foreboding.

  36. Pingback: On Travel | Advokat Dyavola

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