Earlier this week we hit the 30-day mark… which means we leave for a year in Nicaragua in a very short time. I guess you could say I’ve done my fair share of leaving in my lifetime.
At 13, my parents drove me to summer camp in Maine. I got out of the car and don’t even recall saying good-bye. I guess my mom cried most of the way home. I regret to say I don’t think they ever heard from me in those three weeks.
At 18, I packed up my little Nissan Sentra and drove clear across the country to attend college in California. I was beyond excited about living on the left coast, and I never really looked back. (Eventually, I convinced my parents to get this fancy new thing called America On Line, so we could communicate by some electronic mail thing-a-ma-gig. After that, the whole process didn’t feel quite as lonely.)
After college, I again packed up that little red car and drove back across the country, this time to get married and live just outside of Boston. Again… not so much looking back, but at least I sent email.
After our first child was born, we decided we needed to be closer to at least one set of grandparents (think: free babysitting). So we said our good-byes, turned in our apartment keys, and drove north as first-time homeowners in Maine. To say we were thrilled is an understatement.
Another child and several years later, the economy dried up and so did our income. After spending over $1000 — in a single month — to heat our charming but oh-so-inefficient colonial, the house went on the market and we headed south (to the other set of grandparents offering free babysitting).
In each of these situations, we had wonderful new friends (and, many times, a few old ones too) waiting for us in our new communities. So while it was sad to leave others behind, we focused all our energy on the new adventures awaiting us.
Shortly after moving to Maryland, another family from Maine joined us there. The husband got a job in Baltimore, and they settled within walking distance of our home. While we had met briefly in Maine, our families quickly became intertwined in Maryland. We became best friends… Even two of our kids became best friends.
And then it happened… my dear friend called one day to tell me, but I knew it before she could even get the words out. They were leaving. A new job was taking them so far away we’d have to drive for three days just to get there. In just two short months we went from doing everything together to not knowing the next time we’d see each other.
For the first time, I realized just what it felt like to be left behind.
I hated it.
I went through a wide range of emotions that autumn, from denial (They’re not really leaving, are they? They’re coming back soon, right?) to anger (I can’t believe they left us! I mean, how could they?!) to depression. For months, I would drive by their house and just stare at it in sorrow. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me! I had never really experienced the sense of loss that comes from having a loved one move away… from being left behind.
Now, after 7 years in MD, we’re leaving again. We’re setting out for what is sure to be a great adventure, as much as it is also a detour for some wonderful friendships. A few of those friends (including my sister) have shown the tell-tale signs of this left-behind-syndrome. When I talk about our impending departure, I can identify them by their “lalalalala-fingers-in-ears! I can’t hear you!” responses. Yup — they are knee-deep in the denial phase. I also know that comes hand-in-hand with the anger.
What got me through the my own left-behind-loss was being able to stay connected on Facebook. But honestly, that only took me so far. (Facebook didn’t help the fact that I could no longer stop by their house whenever I wanted, or when my daughter cried for her far-away friend.) Ultimately, what made me see things differently was a quote I read from a missionary who has lived in — and shared her life with dear friends from — countries all over the world.
“Always make your memories worth the goodbyes.”
I love that.
No matter how hard it is to say goodbye to our cherished friends and families here in the U.S., we have enjoyed some amazing times together over the past few years. A few visuals immediately pop into my head: everything from night-swimming with our Las Vegas Strip pool lights, book clubs discussing everything but the book, violent rounds of spoons at the dining room table, and scavenger hunts all over town that make us laugh so hard it hurts… to small group studies where we are challenged and strengthened, quiet evenings sharing delicious meals, and lazy afternoon play dates. Our lives have been completely enriched by those around us. And even though we are getting ready to say goodbye — for a time — these memories are so worth the goodbyes…
So here’s to the next set of adventures. Our expectation is to stay in Nicaragua for just one year (although we certainly are open to being wherever God wants us after that). But at this point I don’t know where we’ll be this time next year. Maybe we’ll be getting ready to leave again. In the end, [cue cheesy background music] I hope we’re able to live in such a way that it doesn’t matter how many times we come or go, but rather that each memory in between is worth it.
And hey, there’s always Skype, right?
You tell me: whose departure affected you the most? What are your best techniques for working through that left-behind-syndrome?