I lie in bed and hear them come clumping, laughing, stomping up the stairs. The weak, wintery African sun is just easing her way over the horizon and only children and dogs are brave enough to be up and at ’em this cold in the morning.
“Come on, Oupa,” they yell in delight.
“You gotta see ‘dis!”
And all three of them troop up the staircase and past the room where Pete, Zoe and I are still cocooned against the cold.
There’s a lego masterpiece or a collection or trucks or a cobweb that they just have to show my dad and I grin, listening to their not-at-all-quiet voices, and it warms me all the way to my toes.
This is home.
These early morning intersections.
The game farms and lion cubs are a wonder. But this, this every day doing life together – this is what home is really all about. How does one begin to say good-bye to all of this?
1. Do not panic
After years of commuting back and forth between countries and memories I’ve learned that panic is the fastest way to kill the moment. Panic at the impending good-bye, panic at the packing, panic at the arriving and all that waits as one tries to get caught up on life at the other end.
Panic kills memory making. Slow down, savor instead.
2. Go slow and don’t overbook the last few days
We used to have people and appointments jam-packed into the last few days before our departure making them as full as our over-stuffed suitcases. That is usually a disaster. It breeds stress and suffocates any real chance at connection. Much better to fill the last two days with lots of slow. Slow time for tea and cookies. Slow time for afternoons at the playground. Slow times to savor the last memories right down to the final delicious bite!
3. Don’t anticipate the leaving
In years past I’ve been sad about the leaving before we’d even arrived. I’ve dreaded the good-bye. I’ve agonized over the last few days. I’ve cried way too early.
Not any more.
Now we live each day to it’s own full. Each day an individual. Each day packed with joy and discovery and wonder. Even the very last day. Even the packing and the driving to the airport. Still there is time to enjoy each other – right up to the ticket counter where my dad likes to stick “fragile” stickers on his chest. There is always time for a last laugh and they make the tears easier to swallow
4. Remind your kids what they have to look forward to at the other end
Kids and their grownups need things to look forward to. It does no one any good just focusing on what will be missed. So we count on our fingers and toes all that’s waiting for us eighteen hours and a plane ride away – bunk beds and dress up clothes, neighbors who collect our mail and friends from church who collect us from the airport. Favorite stuffed toys and bikes and let’s just admit it, deep dish pizza.
5. Start planning how you’re going to frame your memories
We’re already talking shadow boxes for the target that three generations shot at and the rock that Jackson spray-painted red and the many, many photos of Micah and the dogs. Describe to yourselves how you plan to relive the memories and suddenly they feel all the more alive, despite the impending distance.
6. Take home tastes and sounds
We always stock up on music and chocolate when we’re in South Africa. A favorite way to recapture a moment. Delicious.
7. Downplay the moment.
Good-byes can be emotionally loaded. My throat constricts as my little brother Luke looks at me over the heads of all our cousins and says, “This is it.” I stand on my tippy toes and wrap arms as far around his tall, strong body as they will go and swallow hard.
“See you next week,” we say to one another. Because that’s much better than, “see you in a year or so.” And we wave good-bye along with all the other relatives that are dispersing and it feels good to just be one good-bye in a crowd.
Last meals together are always good for the soul. We try to build them in. Unrushed. Enjoyable. Last moments to savor together over favorite foods. Or simply over a bag of chips. Keeping company in the context of something as normal as a meal makes the departure far less momentous. Also, food is good.
9. Squeeze in a last touch
We love to run alongside the car, reaching through the window as it starts to accelerate and yell, “Last touch!” as it picks up speed. When he was only four and Jackson was just one Karabo came running through the security gate at the airport for that last frozen-in-time hug. My brother Luke arrived at the airport at the last minute for a last mad squeeze one year and even when we’ve said not to worry about coming, family always shows up for those last crazy hard and desperate hugs.
A body can carry the imprint of another body a long homesick time.
I’ve never caught a flight that my dad didn’t pray over before we boarded. No matter where in the world I am I call him. He prays. I board with peace. We’ve held hands at boarding gates and prayed at the baggage claim. And I know no other recipe for making a good-bye bearable than the promise that the God who goes with us and stays with them will be the bridge connecting us no matter how far or long the distance.
Heartfelt thanks to South African Airways for helping make this homecoming trip possible. We leave back to the USA tomorrow. Want to keep up with us Stateside? Sign up to get my posts emailed to your doorstep right here Or delivered to your reader of choice. Or just like us on Facebook.