The last difficult goodbye was just like the one before, and the one before that: quick, cheery, almost effortless. Words spoken at my last goodbye rolled off my tongue because they had to, and that’s taken years of practice.
Going back a few years, I would most often whisper the words “bye for now,” which somehow seemed softer and less permanent, but I really knew that anything I said wouldn’t erase the twelve sleeps that would pass before we could be together again. So with a sinking chest and through tight lips I would attempt a smile, not wanting in any way to appear happy that we were parting. I dread to think how it must have looked to her.
I recall those bright eyes looking back whenever we separated and trying to hold them in mine for as long as I could. We’d hug, and again I’d hold her for as long as possible, not wanting to let go. In some way I hoped that my embrace would reinforce the love and affection I held for her, and I could only hope that it worked.
If those goodbyes ever got easier, it was certainly not from the occasions becoming agreeable, more likely it was repetition. It was a necessary evil we learned to accommodate over years, and only after many lost tears and intense, repeated heartache. The parting still hits me these days of course, but today my bruises, if not my heart, have hardened somewhat.
At the end of every drop-off, in those old days I would wait. I’d busy myself sorting items in the boot or re-tuning the radio or something, whilst really just waiting to see if she was safely seated in her car, and in case she needed to lock eyes one more time. I’d always leave the car park last, having watched as she was driven away from me and that car park. I hated that car park on a Sunday evening, I never wanted to arrive, and always found it hard to leave there too.
Even as she drove away, I would mentally send her encouragement as I began to process another treasured weekend coming to an end. ‘Be strong, be brave’ I would think. “Take care… I love you… sorry…” might also have left my lips as I drove myself slowly away, often squinting to see the road through tear filled eyes.
Jumping back to the present, and my last, most recent goodbye, it was in many ways every part as difficult as the old days. The difference now though is that today my daughter doesn’t climb into her mum’s car, she steps into her own car, and drives away under her own steam.
During the last goodbye random thoughts still filled my head just like they always did. A key difference now is that I willed her to not look back, and to watch the road, take it steady and drive carefully. I usually speak at least two out loud before she’s even fastened her seatbelt.
Since the early days she has grown of course, and my kneeling down dad and daughter hugs have grown up too. Last time, we’d been out for lunch, chatting like proper grown ups at a restaurant but still, inevitably, the time came to leave each other. Before she drove away we hugged, as always, and I tried, as always, to convey in that restricted moment my feelings of affection, comfort, reassurance, support, love and much more. So that last difficult goodbye flew in the face of guilt, it blocked out thoughts of regret, and it focused most genuinely on my feelings of love, the latter element being the one that has bound us together throughout.