I’m teaching my children to say “goodbye forever.”
And not in a macabre and desperate way, but as a meditation on impermanence. This is the last time, I tell them, you may ever see someone, so make it a proper goodbye, pay respect, be present in the moment of parting. Don’t cling, cry, worry or ignore, but wish the best for all. Be confident that you have treated the departing well whenever you had the chance, so if it turns out you are saying goodbye forever, there are few regrets if any about the time you spent together.
Too much to put on a kid? I don’t think so — it’s a proper goodbye of the heart.
When my husband used to leave for work in the morning, the children would “run up the hill,” just to the end of the block, racing his car to wave goodbye as if he was the finale float in a ticker tape parade. This might seem like a proper goodbye, a goodbye fit for a king even, but really it wasn’t. They would practically knock each other — and him — down trying to get up there, then clamor for his attention. I found out later they even cajoled him out of the car to kiss them goodbye again, or they would cry and whine. He came to truly dislike what seemed in theory to be a very sweet, if unnecessarily grand, daily gesture. And I couldn’t blame him. The way they made the goodbye all about themselves — as kids will do with nearly anything — was downright irksome.
Then, for Christmas, they got tablets. And I realized I could get them ready for school faster in the morning if they had to get their stuff done before they got to play tablets. (Typical parent revelation, nothing new to see here.) Then I noticed that they were so absorbed in their tablets when daddy left for work that they barely so much as grunted when he kissed them on the cheek to say farewell. They didn’t even look up. Sometimes, later, Julia would even say, Where’s daddy? On their tablets, they were really out of it — really gone. So many of us can relate.
When I noticed this, I thought of Ajahn Amaro and Ajahn Sumedho, who taught me about goodbye forever. Their teachings on goodbye, on impermanence, have given me a sense of urgency around behaving well. Saying goodbye forever is a reminder to treat my kids, my husband, my friends, my acquaintances, my enemies and all beings in such a way that when I do say goodbye forever, I don’t experience or cause unbearable suffering.
I was an Army brat, and I forced myself to become nonchalant with my goodbyes. I always said we’ll meet again, or see you later, or maybe next time. I always left the door open in order to salve the sting of leaving. And in retrospect, I depended on those inevitable goodbyes to release me from good behavior, from learning the skills of conflict resolution, from building lasting relationships, from being present, from loving the ones I was with, as they say.
If I’m honest, it’s been a bit lonely.
We’re dealing with a few painful goodbyes this summer — including a beloved teacher and a best friend. I want my kids to feel the feelings, and then allow that inevitable sting to nudge them in the direction of skillfulness and presence.
So I tell my kids goodbye forever, and I encourage them to say it back to me, to look me in the eye and be totally there when they do. And then I hold them tightly for a moment before completely letting go.