To say goodbye is to die a little.
(Edna Eicke, artist. The New Yorker, July 29, 1950)
We’ve had some challenging weeks at Full Moon Cottage. I’ve heard from two close friends that they are moving to different states within the month. One to IL (not that far) for work, and the other to TX, for her long-awaited retirement. (That far. 1250 miles. I checked right away. Damn.) Phillip’s best friend for decades has also recently moved, so we’re grieving losses we hadn’t expected in the midst of pandemic isolation.
The friend who’s moving to Texas has been my dearest friend for 20 years, a time span that has so intimately opened us to one another’s dreams, flaws, truths, high joys, and deep griefs, that it feels like part of my soul will be severed by our imminent separation. (Of 1250 miles!) Women friends are treasures. It took years for me to land in a place where I could form and tend these friendships. They mean everything to me, and while I’m not losing them altogether, I’m losing their immediate presence. The long good visits, the shared holidays, the laughter, and tears.
The pandemic makes these partings harder; in 6 months, these are the only two people I’ve seen besides Phillip. Both friends came to Full Moon more than once, with their coolers of food and refreshments, their masks, gloves, and lovely willingness to sit with us on the deck for an afternoon of visiting. But the pandemic keeps me from helping my friends pack up their lives and set up their new homes. There’s no foreseeable adventure of traveling to visit them and celebrating their new lives. There are some things Zoom can’t manage.
I’m so very grateful for these recent afternoons together at Full Moon; now, of course, they’re gilded in my memory…I understand there is a possibility we may not share such visits again on this side of life. I’d like to think a vaccine will be developed and that climate chaos will be mitigated, but it seems everything is, “Maybe yes, maybe no,” these days.
Stress, loss, threats to our carefully-structured lives, and changes that surprise us can cause us to regress emotionally. We retreat to seek comfort and safety, to hide from pain. What we do next matters in terms of our healing and growth. I know this; I looked for it when I heard my friends’ news, and I noticed myself re-experiencing feelings that recurred often in my childhood. I thought about all the times we moved when I was growing up, always being the “new girl,” always starting over with friendships, working to maintain them, and then moving away again and losing touch (as children do). I realized that it felt like a rejection to have two longtime friends surprise me in the same week with news that they were “leaving me.”
Grown Up Kitty knew she would miss them very much, but was happy for them and wished them joy; Inner Child Kitty wondered what she did wrong to drive them away and felt only sadness, thinking, “Here we go again: New school; new strangers.” I gave her–that always-healing part of myself–some time to be sad. I listened to her fears and grief.
The past is always walking with us; events that happen now trigger feelings felt in response to similar events we lived through long ago. It’s helpful to pay attention, and to allow these feelings to be felt, while acknowledging that we can separate the events and actors into “then” and “now,” and choose new responses that best suit who we are now, and who we desire to become. I reassured myself: women friends keep in touch; we’ll still share good visits. Transitions are hard but suffering passes. Goodbyes, as Raymond Chandler said, cause us to die a little; they elicit grief and require healing. So I tell myself to breathe. To hold the moment and let it go. To feel the feeling and watch it pass. So we mend; so we go on.
I know that tending these griefs will be ongoing, and there will be days when my friends’ absences are more sharply felt. Life transitions always involve a midwife’s penetrating attention: something is dying; something’s being born, and the gestations follow no prescribed timetable. Watch and wait. Listen and learn. Celebrate and find joy where, with whom, and when you can.
Late today, some plants I’d ordered arrived at my door. Tomorrow, I’ll plant them in the garden spaces we’ve designated, and I’ll connect them in my mind with this time of partings, but also in gratitude for the holy, wonderful memories of these friends, and all the ways they’ve blessed our lives, and how, across distances, we can continue to be blessing to one another.
So we mend; so we go on.
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