Until April of this year, I lived in the most beautiful suburban bubble ever created. It was the backdrop for completing the raising of my five children and the bedrock of the most powerful friendships of my life.
We shared our joy, our pain, new babies and the losses of children and spouses. We shared childcare, recipes and had great parties. We swam hundreds of miles in our lake and shared the grief of losing a child to it. There was an organic farm where our children adopted pet chickens and socialized them only to find them all missing in the fall. We walked with our dogs and our friends covering the 10 miles of trails in a different path every time.
We knew it was spring when the Red Wing Blackbirds sang, and it was summer when they dive bombed us. In fall we had pumpkin festivals and in winter we skated on the lake.
We had a restored cathedral-like barn which held our children’s programs, significant birthdays, concerts and where we gathered after funerals. And, where later this summer we will celebrate the wedding of dear friends.
As my friend Ellyn said during one of our dark times, it was a soft place to land. That was due to shared values and the power of community.
My house sold during a dog walk with a friend from the neighborhood who wanted to downsize, and she sold to someone who lived there and needed a bigger house. In fact, that was my second house in the sixteen years I lived in this piece of heaven. I had six weeks to prepare to leave. To sell what no longer served me and to put the rest into storage. The weather was gray and cold, and things were difficult enough without saying goodbye.
My coach advised me to carve out the time to properly say goodbye, to create a ceremony to honor this time of my life. But I don’t do goodbye very well, and the thought of ripping myself from this part of my heart was too painful to contemplate. So, I only explained the situation to a few close friends and let the word spread. All who called said we must get together, but my instincts said no.
I allowed myself one farewell dinner with two new friends, my dearest friend and my daughter and granddaughter a week before I left. It was acknowledging my leaving and introducing my future as I would be moving to my daughter’s home in two months to be her nanny for the summer. We laughed, we cried, but as two of the friendships were newer it was more optimistic than sad.
I knew it would be better to say hello to everyone after taking a six-week break in Europe and be able to share the stories, talk about my future, catch up with their present news and be joyful. I asked my dear friend Ellen to host a birthday party for me (she has every year for the past eight years—even if it was just the two of us) the day I got back from Europe. The weather would be better in June.
In Italy, I learned that Ciao does not only mean goodbye, but it also means hello—only to those you are close to. This was what I needed to say to friends, hello and goodbye at the same time. Ellen planned the loveliest small gathering and on my long-convoluted way home I was diverted to Iceland for 24 hours.
Acting very regally I told the airline staff this was not acceptable, that it was my birthday and my friends would be gathering in hours. The staff was not very impressed, and there was a long line of people behind me, including some with babies and all their worldly belongings waiting to learn their fate in Iceland. I accepted my free night at the youth hostel—and breakfast—a bit acrimoniously and proceeded to feel sad, homesick, and heartsick that Ellen had gone to so much trouble and I would not be at the fete.
I got on the (free) bus to the hostel, the sun had not yet set, and it was 1 a.m. and sat down next to an Yvonne, a young world traveler who was already researching day trips of Iceland. She explained she was not going to waste her time sitting at the airport when there was so much to see. I immediately pulled out of my self-pity and asked her if I could join her. We made plans to meet in the morning and make the most of our time.
Iceland turned out the be the universe giving me the best birthday ever. It was hauntingly beautiful, and our six-hour tour of the island was engaging, silly and spectacular. My new birthday party was on a small tour bus with eight strangers who sang happy birthday, some stumbling when it got to my name because they had no idea. I shared a bar of Icelandic chocolate with everyone instead of cake with old friends and it was wonderful thanks to Yvonne, Susan, and others.
As for the opportunity to say Ciao, Ciao to old friends. Well the party got postponed one day, everyone but one person made it and I ended up with the longest birthday celebration ever!
I need all my friends to navigate this life, lifelong ones, new ones, and future ones. To all of you, I say Ciao.