A harsh reality of expat life is that you say goodbye more often than most people. This life is like an airport, with constant arrivals and departures.
My son Nathan, at 13, has decided the pain of saying goodbye is not worth meeting any new friends, knowing there is a shelflife on time spent together living abroad. My hope is that now that he and his peers are on Facebook, and have access to other types of instant electronic communication, he'll see that the world is small and with some work no friend is lost forever. But I certainly know how he feels!
When I first arrived in Shanghai there was a group of women I got to know right away. They were unique and diverse and well travelled with amazing stories. Over the past 18+ months, I've said goodbye to all but one, the rest having repatriated or moved on to their next post. Today, however, brought with it the sad goodbye to the final person in that original group of ladies, my friend Kellee.
This was such a blow because it was so unexpected, springing up very quickly and out of the blue. She had been in Shanghai for over four years, and expected to remain here for awhile longer. When I met her, she was days away from giving birth to her second daughter, now a gorgeous toddler. She's leaving Shanghai pregnant with her third child, one that I won't get to watch grow and change each week like I got to do with little Nina Sophia.
Kellee was the one who arranged all the meals for me after my surgery this summer, and was a never-ending source of funny stories. While in Paris, we got to eat at the little cafe where her husband Francois proposed, and walk in the footsteps of many of her experiences in France. I thought for sure we'd have lots more years to tell stories and get to know each other. I feel cheated that it didn't happen. Yet I can better empathize with the people who are forever saying goodbye to us as we move on. It stinks.
I made my husband take the photo above as we said our final goodbye. We were both sobbing our eyes out. It never gets easier, especially when every tear shed is part of a cumulative collection of farewells too numerous (and painful) to count.
But like I tell Nathan all the time, with each goodbye there is also the possibility of a brand new hello. I am ready and waiting.