The Art of Goodbye

By on Jan 29, 2013 in Essays

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Messy room with teen boy and his mom

The house is empty again.

Empty, but not quiet, because my 13-year-old son has left the radio on in his bedroom and his Pandora station playing in the office. I can hear both from where I stand by the front door, a cacophony of nonsensical sound.

With my hand still on the doorknob, I catch one last glimpse of him in the passenger seat as the car pulls out of the driveway, his wild curls reminding me he’s overdue for a haircut.   I wave, even though he’s looking the other way, then turn to survey the mess left behind in his wake.  Books and games and toys on the couch, sweatshirts and socks and a single shoe in the hallway, a half-full glass of water and an empty plate on the coffee table, blankets and a collection of remotes strewn about on the floor next to his TV-watching, game-playing beanbag nest. Maybe I should be better about making him clean up before he goes, but right now there’s comfort in this evidence of him.

He has always taken up a lot of space, energetically speaking. The house is alive when he’s here, charged with his laughter and silliness and moodiness and neediness. Now there’s just the absence of him. So it’s the tangible, physical reminders that help me make the transition into the week without him.  Cleaning up after him has become a ritual that allows me to somehow balance the fullness of our week together with the emptiness of the week ahead.

This is my time to grieve his going, along with all of grief’s allies…guilt and anger, bargaining and acceptance. Despite all the work and healing I’ve done since my divorce, these are the moments when I am most vulnerable to attacks of self-doubt, when I understand completely why some couples stay in unfulfilling marriages “for the kids,” and I wonder if his dad and I really did everything we could to keep our little family together.  I always, eventually, make my way back to “yes,” but getting there is a process I have to allow. Seven years of his coming and going have taught me well. The “goodbye’s” do not get easier, but each one invites me to a new place of acceptance.

My Sunday clean-up ritual is about so much more than having a tidy house.  I’m packing him up, putting him away for the week, capturing pieces of him to carry with me until he comes home again.

I start in the office, turning off the music that I find increasingly annoying the older we both get. The station he chose today is called “Macklemore Radio,” but all I know is it’s loud and grating, the lyrics unintelligible.  I never thought I’d long for the days of Radio Disney, but given the direction things have gone since he officially became a teenager, I would choose Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato any day. He won’t admit to liking my music, but sometimes he gives himself away. Like the other day when he did a dramatic lip sync interpretation of Adele’s “Someone Like You” in the car, complete with sweeping arm gestures and facial expressions that captured perfectly the angst of lost love.

It seems impossibly unfair that I have to go a whole week without his special brand of goofiness to balance out my seriousness.  But I know by now that fairness is not a relevant benchmark when it comes to divorce.

I notice (as in, almost trip over) his baseball bag in the mudroom. He broke his leg in June, so it’s been a baseball-free summer while he’s healed, but he had his bats out this weekend, practicing his swing inside until I shooed him outside. A few weeks from now we’ll be getting up at 5:30 on a Saturday morning to first drive north for batting practice, then south for fall baseball games. We are both ready to have him back on the field, as are his teammates and coaches. But, admittedly, it’s been a nice hiatus.

On the dining room table there’s a map from the Renaissance Faire we went to yesterday. We ended up in France’s cheering section for the jousting tournament and learned that the French way to encourage our rider was by covering our mouths with our hands and shouting “li-li-li-li-li” in a high-pitched voice. He ate Sno-cones, admired the weapons, complained about the heat, and threw some spiky stars at a wall with remarkable precision. But the best part was that he played the knight in shining armor for the rest of the weekend — calling me “M’lady” and opening doors for me.

He’s becoming a man, and I want so much for him to be a good one, for the hero in him to be given every opportunity to emerge.  I know that responsibility falls mainly to the men in his life — his coaches, teachers, and of course, his dad.  None of them are perfect, but it’s a responsibility they all take seriously.  For that, I’m grateful.

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Alizabeth Rasmussen is a freelance writer and baseball mom exploring the art of being perfectly, imperfectly human. She is a former columnist for the West Seattle Herald and currently blogs at Faith Squared.


  1. Well spoken Liz. You’ve written a way for those of us who haven’t experienced “the week the kids are with dad” feeling. Wonderful

  2. Ah Liz. I can see this perfectly. Such a beautiful tribute to the comings and goings of people in our lives and the way our energy intertwines as much as out physical stuff does. Thank you for this. xoxo,

  3. Beautifully written. Took me back to my son’s teenage years. Deciding to stay or go is not an easy decision. (I decided to stay.) To quote Richard Peck in The Road Less Traveled, we who strive to do the right thing “will not have the luxury of knowing it at the time [we] are doing it.” For myself, I will never know.