The Long Goodbye

106b48aFor the better part of the last eight years my life has been a constant stream of goodbyes.

I said good-bye to my beloved New York City. I said goodbye to Cindy, to Carol, to Britt. To Grand Street and McCarren Park, to the L train and to twenty years of the Big Apple. I said goodbye to working, to take-out, to Metrocards and friends who had spanned two decades, more names than I can list here.

I said good-bye to my family. To my mother. To my sister. To my Nana. I said goodbye to driving on the right side of the road. And by right, I really do mean right.

I said goodbye to everything I knew, everything that made my life comfortable, everything that was routine, from food shopping to dialing the phone to simply walking out of my front door.

And in nearly eight years, I haven’t stopped saying goodbye.

Four months after landing in Cyprus I said good-bye to Sally, my first Greta the Guru. The crazy mom whose name I can’t even remember disappeared off the face of the Earth in there somewhere too. Then it was Liesl, whose house we spent so many hours at, who gave me the greatest description of irrational rage ever, who my youngest son called Mama Liesl for a long time. Then Sara, then Donna, Cindy, Kirsten. Goodbye to Clare and Simon.

And then we had to say goodbye ourselves. To Dorien, Angie, Victoria, Tim and Miriam, Janna, Serene, and Sophie. To Katie and Paul. To Judy-Mou and Nikki. To Krisztina. To Eliza and Paul and Birgitt and Fiona. To the school my son learned to read at. To the nursery where my younger son learned how to make friends. To the play groups, to the heat, to the dust and tumbleweeds. To the beaches, the baba ganoush, to the atrocious parking and driving on the left. To that dusty island itself.

Of course there were untold numbers of goodbyes in between. Goodbyes to family who came to visit, to summer vacations when we relaxed and let our breath out only to have to suck it back in again upon our return. To my Aunt Kathy who died not long after we moved abroad, to whom I never got to say goodbye. We said goodbye to lost teeth and baby-hood, to diapers and strollers. I said goodbye to the very idea of having another baby (though my husband said goodbye to that one a long time before).


This crazy life we lead. It seems as soon as we say hello, we’re saying goodbye. There hardly seems a breath between. In Denmark I said hello and goodbye to Dana, our paths crossing only long enough for an invitation to coffee and a ride for my son to his very first school disco. A goodbye to Jill who I felt like I knew, even though I didn’t.

Then to Kara, gone on the fly the day after school started. To Beth and Tim, to Inge, to Nici. To another lovely Clare. Then to Sara–my midwestern foul-mouthed knitting gal. That was a year of thick and fast goodbyes, when it seemed everyone left at once, leaving a heart-shaped hole behind. I said goodbye to honorary-American but thoroughly British Lucy. To Helena and Sally, Jennifer and Kim and Martine. Goodbye to Renee, to Ann, Karin and Lisa too. To Ainsley who tried to sneak out without telling. Claire, Melissa and Barbara. Goodbye to Louise, here only a year. Goodbye to Natalie and Theo. To Pippa who I was only just starting to get to know. I said goodbye to Stefan and goodbye to Carrie, and to the lovely Leontien not long after. There were so many that year we started a new tradition at school just so we could all say goodbye. And we waved our flags and hugged our hugs and we cried our cries.

Because goodbyes, for all you practice them, suck.

And I wonder: Are there other lifestyles so bursting with goodbyes as the one we lead? This expat life, with the looming reality of eventual goodbye tattooed onto your every encounter, woven into the lifestyle, tied up in the very nature of it all.

It makes my heart ache every time I watch a group of teary-eyed children say goodbye to a friend, to a classmate, to a teacher. It doesn’t hurt any less when it is a group of adults. We have our traditions, our rituals, our goodbye dance. Here in Denmark there are flags and circles of appreciation for the children. Signed tee shirts that will sit unworn in drawers. For the grown-ups there are coffees and teas. Parties, presents, and promises. There are hugs. More tears.

I said goodbye to Lindsey, Jo, and Nelly. To Elizabeth and Patti and Zuzanna, Marnie and smiling Susan too. I said goodbye to Dani and Jay, the nicest Canadians you’ll ever meet. I said goodbye to Andrea, to Polly and to Nicole and her boys.

A difficult goodbye to my walking partner, Sunday dinner friend Tazza (and my de-facto god-daughter, Emma).

And now before I can catch my breath, another goodbye to our songbird Jo, to be forever known in our family as JBNS.

A few more flips on the calendar and I will say goodbye to Jill, to Liz, to Andrea and Maridith. To Avril, to Anja and Sandra, Rikki and yet another lovely Claire. To our resident celebrity dad, Claudio. Eventually to Cristina from the block. There are more, but you know that I know that others don’t know, so suffice it to say your names are here in spirit until contract t’s are crossed and package i’s are dotted.

f1143475cece046e5194a10f299ead6aEventually we will say have to say goodbye to Denmark ourselves. When we talk to our kids about the eventuality, there is sadness. One night my older son said, in the type of stilted, choked-up voice that makes you doubt your capacity as a parent, “I don’t want to have to say goodbye to my friends.”

Before I could even say I understood, before I could read him the love letter of people, places and things that I carry around in my heart, he wiped his eyes and said:

“But I guess if we had never come here, I never would have met them at all.”

I’ve spent the better part of eight years saying goodbye. And it really doesn’t get any easier. But my son is absolutely right.

The lump in the throat and the sting in your eye, the quiver of your lip as you wait your turn to say goodbye, yet again. It’s all worth it.

Because just think, if I hadn’t said that very first goodbye, I never would have had all this.


**I ran the risk that I would inadvertently leave our some very important people. It’s likely their names will come to me at 2 am. My apologies to anyone I’ve left off. It was for no reason other than faulty aging memory. xx



14 thoughts on “The Long Goodbye

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  1. Yes…expat life is about saying good bye…and yes you are right it sucks. And even if you are used to it, the pain remains the same. The relationship we, expat, have with friends are extremely strong and sudden. The fact that we live far from home, far from our routine, family and comfort, make us want to create a home with very strong bounds very, very fast. One would say that those friendship will not last because they were created too fast but from experience, it is not true.
    After 16 years of expat life, 8 international moves, 7 different countries, 5 different languages…I have learned that this life also means saying HELLO. Hello to new friends, new culture, new food, new adventures and overall it is just fantastic. Yes you say good bye but you always stay in contact, or you visit, or you meet friends on holidays or in an airport for a stop over.
    I do not regret my path and I just love meeting new people because I now know for sure that I will always end up meeting crazy ones that I will share nice wine, nice food or good laugh with!
    So don’t be sad and start thinking about your next trip or next skype call to your friends!


  2. Another lovely Clare! You are right. And that, I think, is what drives us to live this life, or at least find all the positives in this life. It does get easier as you go along, just in the sense that you understand the folks who are meant to stay in your life will stay in your life. And also that even if you don’t see someone again it doesn’t negate their time in your life. I guess that one comes from having been around the block a few times. Facebook and Skype are also huge–I’m not sure I could have done this as long without technology!


    1. Funny, I guess I hadn’t really reached that stage of life yet, so I hadn’t factored that in. We’ve done the death goodbyes, but as a child, I remember saying goodbye to a handful of people who moved, but never on a scale like this, and never in an environment when it was expected, if that makes sense. One of these days I need to get your take on expat life before technology, Elyse and how different it was.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. When I first moved over, it cost $2.89 per minute for a phone call from Switzerland to the US. Email was just starting out (I couldn’t attach anything or my computer would crash). Skype didn’t exist.

        Yeah. Different.

        Thank god 1 week before my sister died unexpectedly, we found a call-back company who only charged .10 per minute or we would still be paying that phone bill…

        Very different. We lost touch with most folks.


      2. That’s sad, Elyse, because I imagine you made some really good, close friends. My husband and I met right at the start of email too, massive phone bills and having to call MCI every month to remind them about my long distance plan….ah, the good old days 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It was an early morning yesterday
    I was up before the dawn
    And I really have enjoyed my stay
    But I must be moving on

    – Goodbye Stranger, by Supertramp


  4. I spent two years teaching in Japan, doing these things. But I have now spent almost 22 years in this three bedroom apartment in Boston feeling like a turnstile as maybe 50 or 60 roommates of different length tenures have come and gone. It does start to get old.


    1. Now that is one scenario I admit I didn’t consider! I hope you get a little something from each of them to make it worthwhile, even if it’s a hatred for liverwurst sandwiches or a longing for someone who knows how to clean a toilet properly…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely! Some of the internationals have been fun to talk to about world events. Some of the Americans I still am in contact with. A lot of them leave Mayo behind. Go figure.


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D.E. Haggerty

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