The Long Goodbye

I could list the number of friends I’ve driven away from; the number of car (or airplane) windows my slobbery nose has pressed up against; the times I’ve been the one left, particularly by my own children at this stage of life. If not people, I could name the habits I’ve attempted to say good riddance to or the thoughts I’ve tried to bury.

All of the above and a host of other categories have wrecked me in their own time, but in the well-worn path of repetition, I’ve become an experienced goodbye maker. Except with this one pesky thing that actually frames a life: seasons.

I used to divide and categorize in blocks of time with clear lines: when they sleep through the night or get out of diapers or stop napping or go to school or start driving. When we start this job, we can budget these things, or once that project is completed and we hire x amount of people then xyz will happen.

Were I to gather up some of those chunks of life, I might describe them as a stage: the young parent stage, the grad school stage, the building a business stage. For the most part, stages get circled days on calendars and you can look back almost immediately with a breath of relief, “Oh, isn’t it nice that’s done? Goodbye long nights of no sleep!” Stages get parties or celebratory trips or fancy dinners or even just brand new journals that mark new beginnings.

“Seasons” describe a far more blurry period of time and set of emotions. You don’t always recognize you’re in a season or may not realize it’s over for months or years. Unlike stages, seasons are best captured by themes: Broken Relationships, the Lean Years, the Great Hollowing.

I find that I start to sense I’ve been in a season that wants to close when I’m past the acute data points but still in the mire of emotion. When I have begun to give language to where I’ve been this past amount of time, I know I’m dealing with a season, not a stage. And I now know I’m far from it passing. As long as I’m eager to say goodbye to it (for there is always both the bitten and the blessing*), it’s resistant to saying goodbye to me. Only when I cease journaling or verbally processing or being so quickly activated for long stretches and then longer and longer stretches, can I look back and name what has been. And even then it may not be over.

Seasons are harder to let go of than stages because they require more work: personal, reflective, soul-searching, identity-forming, emotional work. Who was I and who am I becoming? What is the life that wants to live in me?** What was I learning in all of that?

I’ve been trying to end a season for a while now. It won’t let go of me. I even tried a ritual of sorts, where I worked on an art prompt with a friend and put all of my revelations in a little box whose lid I propped open with flexible paper columns. I tried to coax “the season” into seeing how non-linear, non-categorized, non-black and white I could be. “See! It can all be here, still alive and visible and working in the background while I move forward with my life!” Still, it has said no. Not yet.

Seasons will not be hurried.

They move at a pace the soul needs, which is usually annoyingly slow in the moment. Especially when you’re aware and have words and have even chosen a theme! But, no, they do not want the special dinner or the elaborate goodbye ceremony. They will not adhere to the start of a new journal, but ooze into as many as they want for as long as they want.

They want to be your companion until they are but a breath you are barely aware of taking, and then one day you notice it’s gone. When did it go? To where? And you will say, “But I didn’t get to say goodbye!” And your soul will whisper, “You’ve been saying goodbye for a long, long time.”

* Behold Your Life by Macrina Wiederkehr
** Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

Beth Bruno lives in Colorado where she and her husband get to create life-giving experiences and opportunities for aha moments around God and story. As owners of ReStory Counseling, they do this alongside a team of story-informed coaches and counselors. After living in Turkey for almost a decade, she designed and leads the boutique Lost Women of Turkey Pilgrimage for women each year. With the last of her three kids close to flying the nest, you may soon find her living in one of the cave homes of Cappadocia.