In the next couple of weeks a scene will repeat itself over much of Virginia. Those high school seniors who walked across the stage over at the Pavilion in June will be walking into their dorms at universities across the state. Parents will stand silently and watch as that familiar pair of shoulders disappears into the dorm’s doorway. They will have just said good-bye to their precious son or daughter. It’s a good idea to prepare yourself for this big event. Being a Navy wife, I have some experience with good-byes. There are three ways to say good-bye, and knowing how you do it might help you get through it.
The first category actually says good-bye about two weeks before that final scene. This person has a really good cry two weeks prior, usually holding the departing one very tightly and sobbing uncontrollably. This scene usually happens at the most inconvenient hour in the most ridiculous setting. It can happen on the express line at the grocery store, in the garage doing laundry, or while the departing loved one is taking a nap. You wake them up, hold them, and cry. This can be very confusing for the departee. After that is over, people in this category cry no more but serve as the tower of strength for everyone else in the family. Of course, the only one they are kidding here is themselves.
The second category of person waits until the departing person is ready to leave to come to grips with what is actually happening. This is really sad to watch, as it sort of catches them unaware, and they deal with the whole thing right before your eyes. I recently witnessed this category in action at a service academy induction day. A father, carrying his daughter’s luggage, escorted her up to the wrought iron gates to which all the other young men and women entering the service academy that day had walked alone. At the gates he was told that he could escort her no further. He asked a typical question of this second category. “Who is going to carry her bags for her?” He was told, with all due respect and courtesy, that she would have to carry them herself. The daughter then took over. She told her father she would be ok, picked up her luggage, gave him a peck on the cheek, and went through those gates. He stood there for several minutes, in awe of his poised and confidant daughter. So did I, in awe of them both.
The third category is the fighters. It took me along time to understand this crowd. If you have been fighting with your rising college freshman all summer, this may be you. Some folks will tell you that by the time their son or daughter leaves for college, they will be glad to see them go. It has been a horrible summer. Fights over curfews. Fights over money. Fights over summer jobs or the lack of summer jobs. Fights over the car. Fights over …the list goes on and on. I have seen some people fight terribly before a deployment. They go for days without talking to each other. If they time it just right, they are not talking to each other on the day the ship pulls out. They PLAN it that way for this is how they navigate through this sea of emotions. “I’ll be better off without her” they tell you. “I will be so glad when he’s finally gone” they say. Don’t believe a word of it, for these are the folks who love each other so much they simply can’t say good-bye.
All of us who clapped and cheered for our senior in June will surely be bereft in September. But perhaps understanding how you are saying good-bye now will help you find your way from those dormitory doors back home again.