Such sweet sorrow

We’ve just spent a four day weekend in Canberra, visiting DD on the occasion of her 21st birthday. She’s been living in Canberra for two and a half years now. She is attending the University of Canberra and has done the whole ‘leave home for study’ thing. We have all been learning about the process of letting go, of growing up, of detaching the apron strings.

In the first year of her study, I was working in Sydney on a regular basis, so as well as the car trip that DH and I took to drop her off, I also managed a few weekends on the tail end of Sydney trips where I would catch the bus down on the Friday and back again on Sunday and get back to work again in Tassie on Monday morning. DH has managed a couple of trips up too, just short ones. And of course DD has come down to visit us, at least twice a year. Once for her birthday, once for Christmas. And then the occasional special occasion like a wedding or something that would bring her down again.

It’s so wonderful to have social media and to be able to keep in touch so easily. It’s not at all like when our family moved to Hawaii for a year when I was eleven. The separation then was a real thing. We wrote airmail letters home, flimsy thin pieces of paper that you wrote on in specified sections and then folded the thing and posted it off. No envelope – that would have added to the weight. We also made special long distance phone calls, the delay in the line causing the conversation to sound artificial. Only for super special occasions. Birthdays and Christmas. And we had to take the time difference into account, ringing at strange times of night so that both parties could be at least partially awake.

It’s different with DD and our separation. We can be in touch in so many easy ways. We can email, Facebook chat, message, ring, Skype. The slightest happening is an occasion for another conversation. And then sometimes we don’t speak for weeks as life gets busy.

But we were chatting this year and we realised that DS hadn’t yet had a chance to visit her in Canberra so we decided to come up and visit for a long weekend. DH, DS and I can’t take holidays at the same time due to teaching commitments and the only way we could get more than two days was to do a Thursday through Sunday visit during the school holidays. Fortunately that coincided with DD’s birthday. Almost. Her birthday is Wednesday. We discussed whether to visit the weekend before, or the weekend after. We decided that the weekend before will give her a birthday to look forward to after. The weekend after would leave her with nothing.

This has not been a cheap holiday. Flights and train tickets, accommodation and food and special activities and parties have all added up. I’m not sure how far it’s added up and I’m not sure I want to know. It was worth it. It was so worth it.

We have hung out together with no agenda, we’ve made a puzzle together, we’ve done the tourist thing – Questacon and the War Memorial. We’ve had meals with long time friends, and we’ve met some new friends too. Lots of driving around roundabouts and through bush land between Canberra suburbs. Lots of unhurried conversation ‘not about anything, just talk’.

And eventually the time came  to say goodbye. We got to the train with ten minutes to spare but we didn’t know just how much warning we would get for departure and my panic kicked in. We all hugged and got into the train and found our seats and then sat for ten minutes waiting to leave, waving out the window. How much time is enough to say goodbye? How much is too long where you hug and hug and get more maudlin until you’re all on the verge of tears? I think I went the opposite direction this time. Quick hugs and then lots of sitting on the train thinking of wasted minutes where more conversation could have been had.

It was still hard to leave, and tears came to my eyes as we pulled out of the station. DD is in a good place. She has friends, good friends, decent people. She has friends who are almost family. She’s had some hard times and some difficult situations (like when the car kept breaking down) and people in Canberra have come through, gone out of their way in a big way and helped her out. She is happier there than I think she would be at home with us. She’s had to grow up and she has done, she is independent, self-reliant, caring and strong. It’s been good for us all to have her leave home. But saying goodbye is still hard.

How do you say goodbye just enough and not too much? I guess I’m asking, how do you say goodbye without it hurting? Do I even want that? I don’t think so. I prefer to have the relationship that makes it hard than to have an easy and pain free goodbye without the joy of relationship. It’s been a good weekend, it is good to have the pain of a sad goodbye, it is good to have the easy communication while we are apart, and it’s good to know she’s coming down for DS’s 18th birthday in October. That’s not too long to wait.

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