The Art of Goodbye

By on Jan 29, 2013 in Essays

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Messy room with teen boy and his mom

I start at one end of the house and collect everything that belongs in his bedroom, then grab everything from his room that needs to go somewhere else and turn off his radio and light as I leave.

I wander into the kitchen next, load the dishwasher, clean up crumbs from sandwiches, soak his oatmeal bowl from this morning and throw away the ice-cream container from last night.  I remember to rescue from the garbage disposal the 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon he insists on using to eat any food that comes in a single-serve container: ice cream, yogurt, applesauce. I don’t know if this amusing quirk is specific to my house or if it goes back and forth with him.  I do know he has a rhythm unique to each of his homes and that he navigates between the two with surprising ease, settling in quickly and completely wherever he is.

I check my cell phone for messages and remember that it’s filled with photos I haven’t yet had a chance to look at.  This was the weekend of the Perseid meteor showers. The skies were clear, so last night I headed to the back yard as soon as it got dark and settled in on the chaise lounge for some sky watching. I invited him to join me, but he was conducting important social business via Skype or Facebook. After about 45 minutes, he came out, dragging his beanbag chair and carrying a little flashlight. I had yet to see a meteor, but was enjoying the summer night, letting my eyes play tricks on me, stockpiling wishes for when the streaking stars would show themselves.

But then, we noticed the light from his flashlight shining through the smoke from the incense stick I was holding to ward off mosquitoes. It was beautiful, the most amazing shade of blue-gray. He ran inside to get my camera and for the next hour we tried to capture that beauty, playing with the angle of the light, lighting more incense, snapping photo after photo. We forgot all about what might be happening in the sky.

Now, flipping through those photos, I marvel at his hands. The rest of him is so grown up. He’s almost as tall as me. It seems like he’s always complaining about his shoes being too small. And I’m still not used to the voice that comes out of him these days.

But those hands. In them I can see all the ages he’s ever been. They’re just bigger versions of his chubby baby hands.

I miss him. Already.

“But weren’t you the one who left?”  Over the years, I’ve fielded this question from others and from the voices inside my head attempting to discount what I’m feeling.  As if I need to be reminded.  As if Iā€™m somehow not entitled to miss my son because the divorce was more my choice than his dad’s.  As if the losses we choose are any less painful or significant than the ones that choose us.

The slow healing process has brought me the understanding that, in some ways, those losses are more significant because they involved choice. 

In the end, loss is loss, and it has to be felt and experienced to make way for the promise of something better, the hope of finding treasure in the darkness. The heartbreak of missing out on 50 percent of my son’s life is real. Fifty percent of the ups and the downs, the milestones and the setbacks, the joys and the challenges that define parenthood.  It’s gotten easier, but I’m beyond believing that it will ever really be okay. So I’m getting better at being okay with it not being okay… letting things be just the way they are.

The whole week will be mine. Alone. My music, my schedule, my food, my time to catch up and then try to get ahead for the next week when he comes back home. I used to feel guilty for looking forward to this freedom and flexibility. I used to think I had to choose between looking forward to the week ahead or lamenting the fact that he’s not here. Now, it’s both at the same time.  I’m learning to find peace inside contradiction, and to expand the container of acceptance to hold these conflicting truths and desires.

Turning back to the kitchen, I gather up the packages of “his” food ā€” the bagels, the half loaf of his favorite bread, the muffins I made for him this morning ā€” and put them into the freezer. And then I take one more trip through our small house, letting the quiet settle in, letting him go, welcoming for both of us the gift of new beginnings.

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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.