We’ve all been through it before: Our loved ones have come over for a visit and within a matter of seconds, our homes are filled with cheer, laughter, and playful squabbling. Seeing them sitting across from us after prolonged periods of separation, we wonder how we ever made it without them. In spite of the veritable length of their visit, it always feels evanescent, with the days quickly flashing by like the stories on a newsreel: Cherry picking one day, walking in the park the next, making trips to the mall and not buying anything, watching television, napping. Regardless of where we are or what we do with these very special people, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is their presence, the fact that the person you have yearned to see finally stands besides you, instead of hundreds or thousands of miles away.
As the days quickly pass by, you find yourself becoming increasingly anxious at the thought of their departure. But busy as ever, you push the terrible thought aside and continue with your work, though you are fully aware that the time is ticking.
But what happens on that inevitable day that we must part? That fate, life, or reality must rudely intervene in our togetherness? On that very day, we find ourselves frantically preparing for their departure, packing various things, checking for their presence thousands of times, essentially scrambling around like chickens without our heads.
When that fateful moment finally comes, you look your loved one in the eye, give him or her a firm embrace, utter a few empty, cheerful words that you struggle to believe, and walk in opposite directions. As the distance between you grows and you realize that you’re no longer jovially brushing shoulders with him or her, the finality of it hits you. You’ve just said goodbye, and their absence becomes something like a concrete fist that knocks the wind out of you, leaving you pained, dizzied, and disoriented.
Having become accustomed to having them just a few feet away from you, you feel as if a void has just opened up in the center of your chest, and you wonder if you’ll be able to fill it again. Striving to move past your pain and aching sense of loss, you attempt to distract yourself from the reality of what has just occurred. Look, an ice cream shop! Perhaps I can drown my sorrow in cold chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry! Not feeling exactly in the mood, you continue pacing and observing your surroundings. Oh, a local book store! Let’s look at the latest releases!
And just as you approach the closest shelves, bursting with colorful novels, your cell phone rings. You check the caller ID, and it’s none other than your loved one on the other end! Shortly after, you pick up and console each other in your mutual senses of aching loss. You look to the future and schedule dates that you can meet again. And when you finally hang up, you are no longer tormented by that same angry agony. Instead, it is replaced by gentle, pulsing hope of meeting again. And even though you’ll still miss them, you’ll always have the memories. This is how we soften the blow that goodbyes deal us.