When 'good'byes feel more like 'bad'byes

There is a time for everything…

…a time to laugh and enjoy…

We celebrated New Year’s Eve with our friends. It was a joyful time with an engaged couple, a single mom and her 11-year old son and our family. We played games, enjoyed good food and had lots of fun. It is so good to have friendships like this. God created us with the need of relationships. We need friends with whom we can be ourselves, to relate to and to enjoy life with. 

…and a time to weep and let go.

At some point just before midnight, I realised that we would never again be in a setting like this to celebrate the new year. Our friends will get married in the spring and move to the USA. Our other friend just got divorced from her local non-believing spouse and will, together with her son, move back to her family in another country. Again a year of goodbye’s. 

In the almost ten years that we’ve been on the field we have seen many people leave. In our first few years, the leaving did not affect us too much. We were in our own transition; we were adjusting, learning the language and getting to know people. There were a lot of foreigners so it was easy to connect with others. Over the years–for various reasons–people moved or left, existing friendships became stronger and it became harder to say goodbye. 

We recently had to let go of two families we were really close to in our city as well as friends who we only saw once a year at our field’s annual conference. Families with older children or teenagers are especially leaving right now. In the coming months, two more families with teenagers will leave. The boys make comments such as: ‘Why is everybody leaving?’ or ‘When will we leave?’ 

Getting to know new people and saying goodbye is part of our lives. An event here, a conference there, meeting people from other organisations. It is fun, but meeting people often goes hand-in-hand with saying goodbye. We have friends we only see once in a while or even only that one time when we meet. Visits from family and friends from the Netherlands and saying goodbye after some days. Saying goodbye: the unpopular part of our life. 

More than before I realise how rare these types of goodbyes are in my home country. Who of my friends back home can understand what I feel? How often do we have to see goodbye for a lifetime in the Netherlands? Especially in our small homeland where we can reach the far corners of the country in maximum two and a half hours of driving. People move but friendships continue. We would still see each for a day or celebrate our birthday together. It’s the opposite here; moving to another city is like moving to another country in Europe. Others move back to their home country which can be anywhere in the world. How big is the chance that we will ever see each other again? 

My thoughts wander off to the many hikes, picnics, games, parties, visits, moments of working together, tears and joys shared with so many friends. So many friends that have impacted our lives in different ways, so many good memories. I don’t want to let go, but I know to keep moving, I need to let go. Not of the memories, but in a way, of my friends.  

It is not easy to go through this myself. But I also see and feel how it touches our teens. We have read the stories about Third Culture Kids (TCKs). How the way they relate to friends is formed by their life of meeting new people and saying goodbye often. The books say that it is easy for TCKs to make friends, but hard to go deeper in those relationships. 

From the books we also know that loss can affect the way we want–or don’t want–to go into new relationships. To experience that myself is kind of awkward. Not an attitude that I like or am proud of, not an attitude that I want myself or my children to have. But I guess it is normal and at the same time it is good to be aware of.

With new people coming to the city and a new family coming to our team I decided that I wanted to work on that attitude and I also understood I needed grace with both myself and my teens.    

The wedding of our friends is still some months away. I do not think about them leaving very much yet. 

There have been lots of uncertainty about my friend and her son’s move. I didn’t recognise how much I was pushing the thought about their move away. Last Sunday her announcement that it would be the end of this month hit me in the face. ‘The end of this month?’ That means there are only three weeks left. 

In the evening, before I fell asleep, I feel the pain. I cry and cry. I let it hit me.

I need to give place to my feelings. It doesn’t help to push away what will come anyway.

I am reminded of a Dutch children’s song:

My God never says goodbye, He lives in our hearts and stays close.
We can cry, we can look for the last words to say, but the memory remains in our hearts.
God gives me courage for every goodbye, it is not forever. We will see each other again.”

Loïs and Mark dreamt about travelling the world in a VW-van, but God asked them if they were willing to go to “the ones who will not hear if nobody goes.” They, with their three sons, live among the Turks.

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