Today, in our current Expats Move Home series, I’m covering the painful but universal experience of saying goodbye. Grab the Kleenex!
Friends, family, family friends, friends as close as family – saying goodbye to any and all of these dear people is the absolute pits.
For expats, friends made abroad quickly become as close or even closer than family, knitting very different people together into strong relationships that would otherwise take years to establish.
Tearing that bond asunder must be done with care… and cake.
There should always be cake.
Going Away Party #1 – Coffee, Cake, and a Dollop of Practicality
Parties are generally pretty awesome (the food! the fun! the friends!), but going away parties can be downright depressing.
Is it possible to enjoy yourself while saying goodbye?
Personally, I dread these kinds of gatherings. Saying goodbye is not one of my strong points, despite the fact that I’ve garnered quite a bit of experience in bidding farewell.
To be honest, this time we were so stressed out and busy from moving logistics that we really did not have the time or mental capacity to allow ourselves get wrapped up in the emotion of the moment. Lest you think we got off easy, the emotion caught up with us later in the form of nasty reverse culture shock.
For reasons too logical to bore you with, we ended up with two parties – a brunch hosted by us and a picnic hosted by our friends.
We hosted the brunch ourselves so we could hang out with our favorite people in our tiny apartment one last time… and to give buyers we knew personally the opportunity to pick up items we were selling and giving away.
This turned out to be brilliant, and not just because I baked four different flavors of brunch cake. The thing is, even with all my careful cataloging, I ended up with several big boxes of extra knickknacks I could not or did not want to take home to the US.
I displayed these items on tables and shelves at the brunch and requested that everyone grab a slide of cake AND take at least one bag full of free stuff.
If it weren’t for the fact that we had to actually say GOODBYE to such wonderful people, the blueberry lemon cake and a boatload of freebies would’ve made for a pretty sweet party.
Going Away Party #2 – The Classic Freiburg Grill & Chill
Several weeks before we left and before the aforementioned cake extravaganza, an American friend offered to host a going away party for our family, wherever and whenever it was most convenient for us.
I’m not usually one to say yes to such things, and actually, it is rather unusual to do this kind of party in Germany. Everyone throws their own parties in Germany, even the going-away kind.
But, seeing as I was already drowning in my to-do’s, I gratefully accepted.
One of the things I so loved about living in Freiburg was the beauty of the outdoors. The city is full of trees, and our apartment nestled up to one of the biggest parks in town.
We always looked forward to summer when we could roast marshmallows on our portable grill and lounge on the expansive lawn. Other people did the same, so it was like having one gigantic community backyard. It really was as awesome as it sounds.
I wanted to savor this experience one more time, so I took a chance on holding the farewell festivities in “our” backyard park.
Given that the big day fell during October in Freiburg, the plan was iffy at best. Rain could’ve squashed our plans as efficiently as a semi obliterates a gnat. Wind and cold could’ve kept the masses at bay. But, God saw fit to give us beautiful weather, and we were able to grill and chill with nearly all of our friends for the last time.
We snapped selfies, laughed, hugged, whispered goodbyes… and ate a whole lot of cake.
Goodbyes – The Expat Reality
After the glitz and the galette were gone, we were left with the somber reality of… goodbye.
Goodbyes are a natural part of every human being’s life, but they happen more frequently in the lives of expats. This is because the nature of the expat life is transient at its core. Whether the end date of the adventure abroad is known or not, the possibility always looms of heading back to the homeland.
As I mentioned above, friends made abroad become as close as family. A year before we left, a certain family we had grown close to were unexpectedly forced to move home. I still feel that loss to this very day.
Is it just me, or does it always seem harder for the ones left behind?
Well, now it was our turn to do the leaving.
Goodbyes – Difficult but Necessary
In the summer before we moved, I read a post written by a fellow expat – How to Say a Healthy Goodbye When You’re Leaving. It impacted me, and I think every expat should read and process the concepts that Ute presents.
Leaving is really, really hard. Because it’s so darn difficult, there’s a tendency to neglect tying up loose ends and saying goodbye.
But, don’t skip this step. It is absolutely vital – expat or not.
I never realized just how important it was to finish the current chapter in every relationship until someone abruptly slammed the book on me.
I recall an expat friend and her family that moved away a year and a half before we did. Once they knew their time was up, they pulled away from their circle of friends. They became distant, both physically and emotionally, and this was weeks before they ever set foot on the airplane.
In their time of transition, they did not allow others to help them much, and they did not say goodbye. I found this incredibly difficult not only because I cared for this person and her family, but also because she was unwilling (or unable) to address the elephant in the room – that she would be leaving for good and that leaving would change our relationship.
As the post discusses, those situations – those hurts, expressed or silenced – are not forgotten. Ute writes:
During the leaving stage we tend to deny or avoid confrontation with those we had disagreements with. We think we won’t see this person again and since we are going to leave anyway, why bother? Fact is that unresolved problems will stick with us like a mental baggage.
Not that I hold a grudge, but the “what if” still pains me.
I struggle with the fact that there was never a chance to resolve that situation and part on peaceful terms. And, because we live in different parts of the world now, perhaps there never will be.
For more on this topic, check out another of Ute’s posts, Goodbyes are Hard for Leavers and Stayers.
Just Do It
I still miss our life in Freiburg and the amazing people we met there, and I pray we did what we could to leave well. Goodbyes are hard, and I am terrible at them. Even so, I hope we have been able to learn from other leavers, parting peacefully and on a positive note.
Life is short – say goodbye… or at least “see you later.”
Even if you hate goodbyes (who doesn’t?!), please think of the other person. Consider that they may need closure even if it is awkward or painful for you.
And, if it helps, bring cake.
A moist slice really can do wonders to sweeten the sorrow.
Though the stakes are higher with expats, moving on is something that happens to every person at one time or another. What are your best tips or stories on saying goodbye and leaving well?