Two weeks ago, I said goodbye to my youngest sister, Becky, off. For the next year, she’ll be spending a service year abroad.
I’m proud of her. She made a courageous choice, she’s going to have a lot of wonderful experiences, and above all– she’s going to do a lot of good. So yes, I am extremely proud of her selflessness and dedication to something bigger than herself.
But I’m still going to miss her.
In the lead-up to our final goodbyes, I tried to keep telling myself that I’m a pro at this. After all, there’s that whole deployment thing that surely must count for something when it comes to emotional capital.
The goodbye was obviously different than the ones I said with John when he left for Afghanistan– Becky’s not going to a war zone. No one’s shooting rockets or missiles at her. She’ll be safe. She’ll have access to internet and phone services that won’t be wonky or blacked-out. We’ll be able to visit her later this year (which, I might add, I’m so excited for). She’ll be able to watch Downton Abbey before it gets to the States (which, I might add, I’m super jealous about).
But, similar to John’s deployment, we don’t know what date she’ll be coming home. I don’t know when (or if) John and I will actually be able to visit– so I don’t know the next time I’ll see her. If this seems whiny and wussy, it’s because it is, and I am. And I own that completely.
Because goodbyes aren’t rational. They’re emotional. And that’s okay. (Tweet this!)So, I was the wimp in the airport, trying not to cry (and failing miserably). I was the one that needed two hugs before she went through security. I stood with my mom as we watched Becky walk through the maze to get to the checkpoint. And I knew exactly what she was feeling– the immediate loneliness that comes right after a goodbye like that. And I wanted to say something to her– but everything just seems so… lame.
A lot of goodbye advice is well meaning but just misses the mark because they come with unsaid assumptions.
It’ll be over before you know it.
You’ll be surprised how fast a year goes by.
S/he’s only in Japan/Korea/England/Hawaii/Other Faraway But Kind of Fun-Sounding Place. That’s not that bad.
It seems that, especially in the military community, there’s a pecking order or ranking of how awful a separation is. Here’s the thing about any goodbye: they suck. They bite the big one. It doesn’t matter where the person is going or what they’ll be doing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a deployment, a long-term TAD/TDY, an unaccompanied station, a study abroad, a missions trip… The build up and the actual goodbye are tough for anyone. Especially if you’ve never dealt with it before.
So here are some things I’ve learned over the past few years which have been full of goodbyes:
It’s okay if the person you’re saying goodbye is going to a “fun” place and you’re sad about it.
It’s okay if the person you’re saying goodbye is going to a war zone and you’re sad about it.
It’s okay that you’re going to miss someone even though they’re going to have a great time.
It’s okay that you’re going to miss someone even though leaving is a fantastic opportunity, a one-in-a-lifetime experience.
You don’t have to justify your emotions to anyone– no one else gets to judge them, and you don’t need to qualify them.
Deal with missing that person in a way that works for you. (Tweet this!)By all means, take people’s advice, but take it with a grain of salt (this advice included). What works for one person might not work for someone else. Don’t try to shove a square peg into a round hole– it’s not fun and it’s just not worth it.
For me, I’ll be diving back into making care packages to ship overseas. I’m also writing Becky a letter a day, just like I did with John two years ago (two years ago!). I’ll be tackling a read-through-the-Bible program again (and hopefully succeeding this time around) too.
Because I dealt with John’s long-term absence, I know what also doesn’t work for me. I know that I need to sleep a normal amount of time– I can’t just keep going until I crash and burn. I can’t stay connected 24/7 to the internet waiting for the proverbial watched pot to boil. I know that I need to be kind to myself, but not overindulge myself– I’ll just end up feeling worse later.
And even though Becky is going to (probably) have the time of her life and accomplish fantastic things, I need to be able to give myself permission to miss my sister and cry if I need to. I can encourage her, be proud of her, and still miss her.
If you’ve dealt with multiple long-term goodbyes, what advice can you offer someone who hasn’t just yet?