Saying Goodbye: Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

by Lisa McKay on April 3, 2013

Change is in the air. After three years here in Luang Prabang, we’re leaving. My husband, Mike, is taking up a new job in Vientiane (the capital of Laos), so we’re packing up our life here and moving. We’re also having another baby in just over four months.

Because of the lack of quality medical care in Laos, it would be less than wise for me to give birth in this country. Because I have a chronic health condition called lymphedema that makes enduring hot weather heat difficult and damaging, it would also be less than wise to stay here, heavily pregnant, through the worst of the hot season and then make a late-date dash to Thailand to deliver. So the plan for months had been for me to leave Laos with our toddler in mid-May when I hit the third trimester, and go home to live with my parents for five months around the delivery of baby number two.

Given that I am now 37, I am sure that my poor parents thought they were at least a dozen years past any chance that I would turn up pregnant and alone on their doorstep needing sanctuary, much less do this twice within three years. Just goes to show you never know in life. It also goes to show that when you raise third culture kids who choose to continue on as global nomads, you run a serious risk of being permanently pegged as their home base. Parents, take heed.

So Mike and I had it all planned, you see. But in the past two weeks all our carefully stitched-together plans have come unraveled. Mike has re-herniated a disc in his back that was operated on only six months ago. An MRI indicates that the injury requires another surgery, after which he won’t be able to lift anything heavier than ten pounds (including our toddler) for at least ten weeks.

I won’t bore you by relaying all the reasons we settled on our new plan of action, I’ll just jump straight to the details. We’ve scheduled Mike’s surgery for April 12th, and Dominic and I will leave for Australia on about the 18th, right after Mike comes out of hospital.

This new plan moves my planned departure from Luang Prabang up by a month, to just one week from today. It also means that Mike and I will be apart for a full 14 weeks before he arrives in Australia just before (hopefully) the birth of our second child. Mike will have to oversee the pack up of our house, move to a new city, and start a new job by himself while he’s still recovering from surgery. In short, it all sort of sucks.

In the wake of this latest medical drama, I haven’t thought a great deal about leaving here as a move. The fact that I won’t be coming back to this beautiful little town that’s been home for three years hasn’t really sunk in.

They say that practice makes perfect, but when it comes to leaving places and people I think it might be the opposite – on one level, anyway.

You do get better at coping with the logistical demands with practice. I can now tackle a multi-stage pack up of our lives, logically parse a dozen complicated flight itineraries, and shift from place to place without breaking too much of a sweat. Over time, however, the emotional demands of serial itinerancy are becoming more difficult for me to acknowledge and address, not less.

Given the sudden rush and how the pressure has accelerated all the deadlines on an already daunting to-do list, it’s perhaps understandable that this departure still feels unreal to me. I’m not exactly flush with time to sit around and think about things I’ve loved here, things I’ll miss, and all the joys and grief that this town has born witness to. There won’t be a farewell party, or many leisurely dinners with friends that would provide opportunities to tell them how we love and appreciate them, and thank them for how they’ve enriched our lives. I’m thinking more about how to survive this change than how it feels or what it means.

To be honest, though, I don’t know how much deep processing of this departure I’d be doing even if our plans hadn’t been up-ended. So far I’ve moved countries about a dozen times and houses at least twenty. I’m continually getting better at the logistics of relocation, but I’m starting to worry that I’m getting worse at saying and feeling meaningful goodbyes. The last time I deeply grieved a move I was sixteen. Now I tend to disconnect easily, perhaps too easily. And I wonder if this is linked in important ways to another trend I’ve noticed – my growing tendency to settle somewhere new lightly, perhaps too lightly.

Right now, I don’t know. All I know right now is that a week from now we’ll be on a plane, heading for a hospital in Bangkok that I’m way too familiar with. A week after that I’ll be preparing to board another plane. Then the kaleidoscope of life will be given another sudden twist and I’ll be “home” in Australia with winter coming on, minus one husband and plus two parents. I’ll be looking for a new normal for our toddler and for me for the following six months.

And then, we’ll be leaving.

And arriving.

Again.

What have your experiences been with moving?
How do you mark departures and say goodbye?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Website: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

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About Lisa McKay

Lisa McKay is a psychologist and the award-winning author of the memoir Love At The Speed Of Email, the novel My Hands Came Away Red, and several books on long distance relationships. She lives in Laos with her husband and their two sons.

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