Beautiful Goodbyes

Last week I left Yellowknife, my home for the last 22 years, to embark on the adventure of a lifetime- traveling around the world, solo. I spent my last few days in town scampering around in a hectic rush to say goodbye to my friends. For some reason, time decided to start moving in fast forward and I couldn’t slow the clock down enough to drag out my last few weeks, to see everyone I wanted to see, to hug everyone just one more time, have one more heart felt exchange, one more night of belly aching laughter. My last two days were comprised of practically speeding from one friends house to the next- to hold their babies, see their new houses, give them some of my things, share music with them, hug them and tell them how much I’m going to miss them. It felt so rushed, so wrong to have to hop from one to the next, when I wanted to give each of them all the time in the world. The only good part about the goodbyes was when I got to follow them with an “I’ll see you in such and such a country!”. When I said goodbye to Mike, I got to say “I’ll see you in Turkey!”. When I said goodbye to Anthony I got to say “I’ll see you in Columbia!”. When I said goodbye to Molly I got to say “I’ll see you on the beaches in Thailand!”. And when I said goodbye to Gill I got to say “I’ll see you in Panama!”. How remarkably lucky I am that so many of my wonderful friends have already begun making plans (some even booked tickets already!) to come and meet me for an adventure of our own along the way.

Other goodbyes were harder, the ones where I didn’t know when I would see them next. I have no set date for when I will return home, and I don’t really plan on returning to Yellowknife to live again. Saying goodbye, not knowing if you will ever see someone again leaves one feeling terribly melancholy. One goodbye that hit me unusually hard was when I stopped by Marie Claude’s work to say farewell. Marie Claude and I have only know each other for about a year and half but we became fast and strong friends in that short time. We forged a deep and meaningful friendship based on our shared love of yoga, nutrition, books and the great outdoors among many other things that drew us together like magnets.

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Photo by the amazing Angela Gzowski

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I had thus far kept myself together well for my goodbyes, attributing my composure to the excitement of my impending journey. But as I walked up the steps to her work, I could feel myself getting nervous, could feel the composure slipping. We began our heartfelt goodbyes and embraced each other tightly, the tears flowing freely. In that moment I was reminded how much her friendship had come to mean me; I came to the realization that I had made a new best friend over this last year and half and it was terribly hard to say goodbye to that. She handed me a lovely envelope with a letter and told me to open it later, which made me all the more emotional. We walked outside, hugged some more, promising we would see each other again, that she would come meet me some day, somewhere. She promised to keep warm and I promised to keep safe. I got in my car and read the envelope dedication: “To: a wonderful globe trotter in the making” and on the back “from: a friend who will miss you”- followed by a quote from the book I just so happen to be reading at this very moment… “our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go, but no matter, the road is life” (On The Road- Jack Kerouac).

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I burst into fresh tears at her thoughtfulness. Hardly able to see, I wiped my eyes and turned the car around to move on to my next goodbye. As I looked down the street towards the way she had turned, and saw her walking away- that beautiful, distinct blue coat with her wizard hood standing tall, the white fur pom pom bouncing gently with each slow step she took in those big black fur boots- I felt my heart break a little more. Her sadness at our parting was tangible in the gait of those slow, heavy steps. There is something terribly heart wrenching about seeing a person you’ve just bid farewell to walking away from you down the cold, snowy street.  While our time together was short, I know we forged a friendship that will last for a long, long time. I know I will see her again, I just don’t know when, which makes it hard to say goodbye. I forced myself to wait until I was alone to read her letter, and I’m glad I did, because as I suspected, it left me in tears again. What a beautiful soul she is, to send me off with such sincere and heartwarming words.

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I knew the hardest goodbyes would be those left until that last day. Marie Claude and Seb were difficult, to say the least, but I knew when I had to say farewell to my parents that it would be the hardest of all. As my dad and I drove out to the airport, we tried to have small talk, about completely meaningless things. The weight of the reason we were driving to the airport hung heavy and thick in the small space between us in the car.  The whole time my mind was racing, thinking that in a few minutes I would be saying goodbye to him for a very long time, not really knowing when I would see him next. I don’t even recall what we talked about; my mouth just rolled the words out on auto pilot to fill the silence, to talk about anything other than what was looming over us- my departure. We got to the airport, met with my step mom, checked my bags and walked over to security. This was the moment. I had done everything I could not to think about it at all up until that point, but there was no putting it off any longer. Dad reached for me and pulled me in quickly before we could see each others faces contorting in a mess of emotion. I hugged my dad desperately, fiercely, and we both broke down sobbing. Words were blubbered about missing each other, about him being proud of me, about the open invite to come meet me somewhere, anywhere, anytime. I didn’t want to let go because I didn’t know the next time I would feel those strong arms around me again.  The same arms that held me my whole life, every time I was in pain, every time I made him proud, every time I had to say goodbye before.  The same strong arms I used to marvel in awe at as a child, as I watched him do things that I thought surely required super hero strength. I didn’t want to let go… but I had to. I went to hug my step mom, who was already crying, saying she couldn’t handle watching us say goodbye. We hugged and cried and made promises. It was just as difficult to say goodbye to this exceptionally kind and genuine woman who loves me as her own and for as long as she has been in my life has been nothing but an angel in disguise, I’m sure of it. We blew kisses to each other as they left, and I let the tears continue to fall, shamelessly.

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I sit here listening to my dad’s ‘Best of Van Morrison’ album that he burned for me as I write this, and ‘Someone like you” comes on. It shouldn’t surprise me when these happenstance things occur, as they do so often now, but it still does (see lyrics below, listen to it here). Music was always our special connection- always burning CDs for each other and suggesting artists to each other. I know I owe my wild and insatiable love of music to him, and I am forever grateful for that. It’s comforting to know I will have so much music along my journey that will remind me of him.

Someone Like You- Van Morrison

I’ve been searching a long time
For someone exactly like you
I’ve been travelling all around the world
Waiting for you to come through.
Someone like you makes it All worth while
Someone like you keeps Me satisfied.
Someone exactly Like you.
I’ve been travellin’ a hard road
Lookin’ for someone exactly like you
I’ve been carryin’ my heavy load
Waiting for the light to come Shining through.
Someone like you makes it All worth while
Someone like you keeps Me satisfied.
Someone exactly Like you.
I’ve been doin’ some soul searching
To find out where you’re at
I’ve been up and down the highway
In all kinds of foreign lands
Someone like you…
I’ve been all around the world
Marching to the beat of a different Drum.
But just lately I have Realised
The best is yet to come.
Someone like you…
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From Yellowknife I flew to Regina to spend nine days with family and friends as it is my second home- everyone in my entire family lives there except my dad and step mom. I was so blessed to be able to see so much of my family in that short visit. We had a wonderful family dinner where I was lucky enough to see my darling niece and nephew once more before I am off. At the tender ages of 2 and 4, these two little angels will be so grown up and so changed when I see them next.
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I got to see my little brother a few more fleeting times as he is down there for school. I met up with two dear friends one of whom is meeting me in India down the road, the other who potentially convinced me to add Finland and a 72 hour stop over into Saint Petersburg to my itinerary. My dear Aunty Joanne was kind enough to gather up her flock of children and their respective children, my nanny and my brother for a big family dinner- there was 19 of us in total. We had a wonderful night of laughter and talk full of travel advice, some hilarious and some that I actually wrote down right at the dinner table so I wouldn’t forget. I snuck in a couple of extra one on one visits with my dear cousin Claire, whom I’ve always been close to. I got to meet her newest darling little addition Andrew who stole my heart with that first precious smile. I was again reminded that the next time I saw this little person they would be an entirely different person- how fast little ones change and grow! As a bonus, the whole family just happened to be going to Mexico this morning as I was flying out of Canada to begin my adventure. It was so nice to have those extra hugs, I love you’s and well wishes as they saw me off at my gate. We even got to sneak one last selfie in!
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I said goodbye to my mom at the airport this morning, a goodbye that was all too familiar for us, after over ten years of visits and goodbyes in Regina. Mom has been so supportive, happy and excited for me this entire time I’ve been planning this trip. She’s hid her fears and trepidation well, but I know she is terrified to let me go. But I also know that she understands, perhaps better than anyone, how much I need to go on this journey, as a young woman, by myself.  I know she hides her fear and puts on the brave face for me. And for that I can’t thank you enough, mom.
And then there are some goodbyes that have to be made more than once… When I split from my partner Travis of four and half years back in October, we had to say goodbye in Yellowknife as he moved back to his home in Regina. That was a sorrowful, difficult and somber goodbye. We didn’t know when we would see each other next and there was so much hurt, anger, and sadness shrouding us during that time. I had hoped I would see him again when I stopped in Regina, but I couldn’t be certain… you know how break ups are. But thankfully we reconnected while I was in town and got to spend a few wonderful, healing days together before we had to say goodbye again. It was terribly hard, as I knew it would be after reconnecting like that, but we were leaving on much better terms, and we had made plans to meet up in Italy for a few weeks in the fall. This was one goodbye that, while leaving me melancholy, left me feeling a little more whole instead of a little more broken.  I even got to go out and see my old friend Jimmy Ray (Travis’s old roommates kitty from when we lived in Regina together!) and say goodbye to that feline love of mine.
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Ecstsy kitty in action, as we dubbed him

I also was able to visit with and say goodbye to my grandmothers. My Oma  (Mom’s mom) is in the clutches of dementia and it’s always a difficult time visiting with her.  While she wasn’t entirely sure of who I was at most times, it was a good visit. When my mom and I dropped her off at the home, we hugged her goodbye, but I didn’t bother telling her about my trip because her short term memory tended to reset every 15 seconds or so. I couldn’t hug her and tell her I wouldn’t see her for a very long, because she would forget before I walked out the door what I had just told her. So I simply had to say goodnight as if it were any other night, as if I would see her again soon. My mom and I gave her a big hug together and she hugged us back vehemently, saying she wouldn’t know what to do without us. In that moment I saw her true frailty. Not of stature, and not even of her crumbling mind, but of her basic desperate human need for love and family, for affection. I was blown away at how much that hug meant to her, and in turn to me.
It is so strange and calamitous a thing to love someone, to have a lifetime of wonderful memories of them, and to be desolately aware that they don’t know who you are, that they will forget you the moment you leave their sight..
For these reasons and more, saying goodbye to my great grandmother (dad’s grandmother) was also especially hard for me.  She just celebrated her 100th birthday this past November! But in the last two years has finally started succumbing to old age, the beginnings of dementia taking hold of her. She couldn’t quite grasp who I was, and she’s completely deaf so our communication was mostly her talking, while I wrote out what I wanted to say to her. My Nanny, her daughter in law, took me to visit her and we stayed for two hours just visiting and talking as best we could with the hearing barrier. This is the woman who I have always looked up to as a hero. She was always so kind, so sweet and so full of life and humour, even in the most advanced of age, and even thought she completely lost her hearing long ago. But most of all,  she is the most fiercely independent woman I’ve ever known. She has outlived 3 husbands and a 4th boyfriend (the only woman I will likely ever know who snagged herself a man at 97!). I can’t imagine how hard it must be to watch husband after husband, love after love, pass away in old age, and yet she is still here, 100 years old, cracking her jokes, making everyone laugh, and holding on to as much of her independence as she possibly can in a full care home.
5 generations! Great Grandma at 97 years old.

5 generations! Great Grandma at 97 years old.

There are no words to describe my love and admiration for this woman, which is what made saying goodbye to her so hard. Her health has declined rapidly this past year, and I know there is a very good chance that I will never see her again. While she struggled to recall who I am (and who can blame her at 100, with such a vast network of family with at least 8 new great-great-grandchildren in just the last four years!), when I went to say goodbye, I swear there was a glimmer of recognition. I knelt before her in her wheelchair, hugged her, and then took her hands in mine. I told her I loved her, watching her read my lips, ensuring she understood. She told me to be safe, which I promised to be, and then she begged not to forget her. My heart ached at her request and I told her with absolute conviction that I couldn’t possibly ever forget her. I was about to leave but she held on to my hands and pulled me back for another hug, which nearly broke my heart. I swear I could feel her trying desperately to place me, could feel her on the edge of understanding, remembering who I was, and if only for a fleeting moment I think she did… and then it left her as quickly as it had come. But she knew that I loved her. She knew that I was family. She knew now that I was leaving for a long trip.  And we both knew I likely would never see her again.

Goodbyes are hard, so damn hard. But that is an unavoidable and uncompromising part of traveling. I suppose these few weeks filled with passionate goodbyes were good practice for me, as I am  going to spend the next few years saying endless goodbyes to such darling people who touch my soul. And while goodbyes are wretchedly hard, they also show you how loved you are and how much love you have for those around you. Although all of these goodbyes have made me sad, they have also made me feel utterly overwhelmed with love.

I have come to learn that in life there is always balance. And so, while I may be saying tearful, sorrowful goodbyes today, I know that my future is going to hold so many incredible and fulfilling hellos, as I meet a myriad of new beloved souls.

5 thoughts on “Beautiful Goodbyes

  1. What beautiful “I’ll see ya later’s”! Can’t wait to follow you around the world, hear about the interesting people you will meet and most importantly read about you falling in love with the world that so many of us will never see! Much love my sweet wee cousin! Safe travels

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  2. Beautifully written words my precious daughter. May your adventure be full of fun, full of wonders, full of friends, and full of love.

    Dad.

    Like

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