I Was Here

I love a big entrance. Boisterous hellos, tight hugs, chatter on top of chatter. I’m great with an enthusiastic greeting. But I’ve also been quick to look for the back door. I haven’t always given quite as much drama to the goodbye as I do with the hello. In fact, I’ve been known to slip out of gatherings without even saying a word. It’s not my greatest quality, I know, but I, like many others, am not very fond of goodbyes. They’re either sad, awkward, drawn out, or—worst case scenario—all of the above. I’d much rather stick with the dramatized greeting before completely avoiding the farewell. 

I spent a couple of very transformational years living and working in Australia. Because of the distance from my home in the Chicagoland area, I had an emotionally difficult time making a long-term commitment to my work overseas. When I departed the Sunshine Coast of Australia for what would be the last time, I left several bags of my things there, unable to admit to anyone, let alone to myself, that I knew I wouldn’t be back. I felt it deep in my bones, but I didn’t have the courage to say goodbye to the place and people that meant so much to me. So I didn’t. I slipped out of the country relatively unannounced; that was 13 years ago, and I’ve never been back. 

Since that final flight out of Australia without all of my luggage, I’ve continued to encounter a number of endings with cities, homes, relationships, and jobs. I thought I could crack some code that nobody else was able to figure out, but I eventually admitted what feels like an unavoidable truth: endings are hard, even if they’re desired. They’re a death of some sort—sometimes of something that was incredibly sweet or sacred, sometimes of the dream or desire that it would be something sweet or sacred.

Either way, goodbyes rarely feel good, but avoiding them doesn’t make the pain or sadness disappear. 

I was over 2,000 miles away from my grandma when it became clear that she was in her final days. Although I had already ghosted an entire country, I was determined to honor her and our relationship with an embodied goodbye. It was early in my second term of graduate school, so I stayed up all night writing and submitting two papers so that I could skip school and hop on a last-minute flight for a trip that would be less than 24 hours long. I flew more than halfway across the country to do the last thing I ever want to do: say goodbye. And, to this day, there are few memories I hold as dear to me as when I sat in a dark room at my grandma’s bedside, holding her hand for the very last time. 

In the long run, doing the hard thing is better than avoiding the hard thing. That feels as true of goodbyes as with anything else. These days, I try to show up and be present in my goodbyes because it is a way to honor what was—good or bad. I do my best to leave the way that I came and to allow for as much energy and emotion to be put toward my endings as my beginnings. Because while hellos are full of anticipation for what will be, goodbyes are the best way I know to offer acknowledgement and gratitude for what it was, whether it’s leaving a friend after a conversation over coffee or leaving a city after years of life spent within it. Maybe I’m thrilled it’s over, maybe I’m aching for the time to continue, but either way I can be a woman with enough courage to show up to the reality of what’s taking place: this was real, this was a part of my life, and this is ending. 

Goodbyes can, of course, continue to be avoided. We can find the back door or slip out relatively unnoticed, but as was the case in the quiet room holding my grandma’s warm hand, there is a richness we open ourselves up to receive when we say yes to doing the hard thing. I am finding that it will often deepen the entirety of an experience when we are an active participate in its ending. And, if nothing else, I’m trying to show up with my whole self through my whole life, beginning to end. 

Hello: I am here. 

Goodbye: I was here.

And I am so grateful.

Mallory Redmond embraces anomalies—she is an adventure-loving homebody who keeps a clean house yet always makes a mess while eating or brushing her teeth. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. Mallory and her husband, Darren, live in Ohio with their beagle, Roger, and their two daughters. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.