Six weeks ago, I moved from Chicago to Charleston, South Carolina. Moving was a whirlwind decision my husband and I made in about two weeks. I had gone from loving the excitement of the city to hating the traffic, the tension and the constant struggle to find a parking spot. I was beginning to understand that the city was no longer the place for me to be.
Like a lot of people, I assumed we would move to the suburbs. However, I was torn. I lived in a wonderful area and still appreciated much of what Chicago had to offer. It’s just that the stress of it all weighed me down.
They say the world will tell you what to do if you just pay attention.
My indecision was helped along after a bird attacked my head TWICE on one of my beloved nature runs near Lincoln Park. The park had served as a sanctuary, where I could get away from the hum and relentless pounding of my urban environment. Simultaneous to my considering moving, the animals and nature turned on me. A goose chased me, pecking at my legs. A blackbird dive-bombed my head twice in one day. I felt under attack and, it was then, I recognized that I was feeling that way in my urban environment.
My husband, the city boy, told me he was ready to go somewhere warm. Two of his friends suddenly died, and I think this changed his mindset. Since we were already moving, he suggested we go somewhere new, and we agreed.
Charleston looked like a great choice — Southern, so we could be near my family; still on the coast, since we love the water; and my husband and I love the heat and humidity.
Although I was excited at the idea of living in a new environment, saying goodbye to my friends, my neighborhood, and the life I had lived within a five-mile radius was a new experience. Moving my family and a house filled with stuff accumulated over 20-plus years of life, family and work was a mammoth task, and the goodbyes felt like a lingering dark cloud.
If I didn’t say goodbye, maybe I could avoid strong feelings of loss. I fantasized that I would just send out a quick email, make a few phone calls, then be on my way. It’s not that I didn’t care deeply for the people in my life. Actually, I cared so much. I wanted to avoid the reality of grief and loss. Do we have to go through all that muckety muck? Then my best friend confronted me, saying, “You aren’t going to just try and slip away are you?” Yes, maybe I was. (But then I didn’t.)
So came dinners with friends and goodbyes all around. I received adorable gifts, plenty of hugs, and a set of cool towels with a Chicago flag emblem on them. Tears came, laughter and stories too.
Saying goodbye to my World War II veteran friends was especially hard. In Chicago, I volunteered to work with the Honor Flight program, an organization that reaches out to thousands of World War II and Korean War vets and flies them, for free, to a day of honor in Washington D.C. I signed up veterans to go and whenever they went on the trip, they returned with an incredible sense of emotional healing. I loved seeing the closure to what was probably unendurable trauma.
The veterans I met were living very isolated and lonely lives in the Chicago housing projects, with minimal support. I liked checking on them, taking them to lunch, running errands, and just being a friend. It was an amazing honor hearing about their lives as soldiers in what was perhaps one of the greatest wars in the history of the world. In addition, most of them were African-American, so I heard stories of them fighting the KKK on the porches of their parents’ homes when they were children growing up in the early 1900s.
“Well, I hate to see you go. I don’t got nobody around no more. But I sure do thank you for everything you done for me,” one veteran said. I cried like a baby all the way home. I think our friendship did more for me than it did for him. Thank God I have a Higher Power who I believe cares for everyone. Otherwise, I could not have driven away that day. I don’t know what else I would have done, but that was and still has been my hardest goodbye.
Saying goodbye is so important. It is unfortunate when life comes at us so fast that we do not get a chance to say goodbye.
Saying goodbye allows us time to honor the importance that we have in each other’s lives. It gives us the opportunity to form words for feelings that we might be recognizing for the very first time. It is easy to take for granted so much in our lives, and saying goodbye prevents this. In addition, saying goodbye honors our past and is a signal that choices were made, tears and laughter were shared, and in my case, a life was well lived. A sound was heard in the forest, and what we do and who we are in our everyday lives is a testament to this grand old thing we do that is living.
When I drove away from Chicago, I took one of our cars and a bunch of stuff and drove 13 hours by myself. When I entered the state of South Carolina, I felt nervous. When I looked at the South Carolina welcome sign, I noticed that the state flag had a palm tree on it. A palm tree? I laughed to myself. With a palm tree, you just gotta’ know that everything is going to be alright.
Now, on to a new chapter.