I hate goodbyes. I tend to be a symbolic person, which can be overwhelming during a season of goodbyes. I become consumed with honoring “lasts”, like the “last group hang-out”, “the last after-church lunch”, “the last birthday party” or “the last time watching our favorite tv show together”. I hesitate to put anything concrete on the calendar in case my soon-to-be-departing loved ones want to get together to hang out or drop by or even stare at each other.
I have had good friends move away before, even several who have left in the same season. (A natural consequence of living in a college town.) But this time feels different. One element that adds a level of grief is that, coincidentally, all of my departing friends are moving far enough away that it is impossible to visit without plane tickets or a laborious car ride. Another level of impact is the short duration in which all of these close friends are leaving. In a span of 10 weeks, I will have said goodbye to 8 of the dearest friends I have ever had. Beyond both of those elements is the reality that these close friends have walked with me through the most difficult, confusing, amazing season of my life. These people prayed for us weekly and listened to our laments as Dave and I tried to conceive. They encouraged and supported us as we began exploring adoption, and then they rejoiced with us and showered us with love and gifts when we learned that we would be parents to a 4-year-old boy. They poured into me as I adjusted to my new role as a mother, and I witnessed their outpouring of acceptance and compassion toward my son, too. These people have demonstrated love to him, have consistently invested in him, and have made effort to develop lasting relationships with him. It means the world to me to see my dear friends love and cherish my son. And it is so personal for me because these are the same people that wept with me as I yearned to be a mother for so long. They look at Josh with a similar awe and gratitude that we do because they really know what a gift he is.
There is a small part of me that feels like shutting down relationally for a while. I put myself out there, developed some genuine, meaningful relationships, and now I am undergoing heartbreak every few weeks of this summer as I say goodbye to more and more of them. Even as an extreme extrovert, the thought of starting over with a bunch of new people, or even deepening relationships with people I already know, seems exhausting. And maybe there is a part of me that needs to honor that feeling. Instead of jumping into new friend groups and social situations, maybe I need a brief stint of introspection and regrouping. As a mental health counselor, I have plenty of feedback for myself about allowing time to grieve, focusing on the positive consequences of engaging in genuine relationships, and then getting back up on the relational horse. I want to trust that God will both sustain my existing relationships and provide me with new, meaningful connections to fill in some of the gaps that these friends have left behind. But a part of me doesn’t want to move on. I feel like a preschooler having a tantrum (something I know plenty about these days). “I want MY friends, and if I can’t have them, then I don’t want ANY friends!” My grown-up logic would say that this argument is counter-productive and only really hurtful to the one engaging in this tantrum (that would be me in this scenario). But when my teenage and grown-up clients engage in this type of thinking, I challenge them to own their choices boldly and thoughtfully. Basically, that would mean my saying, “I recognize that my perspective on my friends leaving is irrational; however, I am choosing to be irrational right now. I recognize that I cannot maintain this irrational thinking and live productively, so I will re-visit this irrational belief in the near future. But for now, it’s working for me.”
I want to retreat. I want to pout. I want to take my friendship ball and go home. But here’s the thing. I know that I have tons of people staying in Gainesville that are meaningful to me and that I have genuine relationships with. I also know that I have an incredible web of support and love all over the country now, which is pretty amazing when I really think about it. A dear friend who is not moving (thank God) reminded me recently that, even though no one can replace the friends that have moved, there are people around me that would welcome a deeper relationship and more intimate connection. Maybe I haven’t been able to see them because so many of my relational needs were already being met. Good reminder. I needed that.
So I will press on. I will dispute my irrational beliefs and choose to move toward people. I will challenge myself to be open to developing and deepening relationships with others in my immediate communities, while still holding on to the bonds of my precious, unique, life-changing community that is now spread across the country. There is a Girl Scout song that is ringing in my ears involving friends and different types of alloys. Those Girl Scouts really know what they are talking about.
I will even try to enjoy my summer amidst all of the goodbyes. After all, I have a lot to be thankful for this season.