An Outreach Program of MarineParents.com
It's one of the first words we teach our toddlers. "Bye!" We look at them in someone else's arms--- a grandparent, day care worker, parent- and smile and wave, teaching them to prepare for a transition that life will reteach them many times will never look the same as it does to a baby.
My Marine was my last kiddo-- the third--and was six weeks premature (even though he was nearly 8 lbs) so he was, needless to say, a Mama's boy. He was the leg-clinger at daycare, the sobbing, bawling heap of a mess on Sunday when I tried to drop him off in the nursery, the one who told me he didn't need to go back to kindergarten because he had learned to whistle so he knew it all. That child never did like goodbyes, but he learned to accept them.
Goodbyes often took different faces. During his high school years, it was that " Bye Mom" every morning, followed by a silent prayer that he would be home in one piece that night.
Two weeks after he turned 18, it was that " Bye Mom, I love you." that he bid a trying-to-hold-back-tears Mom at MEPS while I watched my pride and joy swear in, promising to die if that is what his country needed of him, pledging to learn all he could and do his level best to make sure that never happened, and knowing that the man I would see in 13 weeks would never again resemble the lanky, baby-faced boy I was sending them. I sat there trying to memorize every curve and line of his face like I would never see it again...and in ways, that was true.
After boot camp, he informed me that Marines do not say "Goodbye", they say " See you later". So, our goodbyes never looked the same. Instead, they looked more like two people trying to pretend that they were only parting for a few hours instead of months at a time. They did not resemble a mother sending her son off to places around the world that have people who have the sole mission in life of making our goodbyes permanent. Our goodbyes were cloaked in the denial of care packages sent with bits of home. Birthdays missed, weddings, funerals, babies born that could only be witnessed from afar....a picture on Facebook or a video emailed half a world away.
Goodbyes now were more than painful. They were excruciating. My baby that once would pucker up his quivering lip in fear that I was no longer existent in our simple game of 'peek-a-boo' was now learning the full cruelty of Goodbye as he fought back tears, beat himself up over "what could I have done to stop it" and bid a brother in arms a tearful, heartfelt goodbye at the extinguishing of a life too soon. Goodbyes were said by the bedside of an ailing grandfather, with an out-of-breath Marine who barely made his flight across country wanting desperately to get one more chance to tell him how much he loved him and what he had meant to him. Goodbyes were now delivered by Red Cross messages on deployment, informing him of family members who would never be here to welcome him home again.
Goodbyes were now invading other places. They were being said to his former life. Friends at home who no longer understood or could relate to this hardened, mechanical ghost of the person they grew up with. Interest like baseball and hanging out with cousins, that were no longer priority when you have spent so much time with the horrors and cruelties of this world. Goodbyes are everywhere--- in his past, in his present, and in his future.
He will have decisions to make--does he say goodbye to this life that he has learned to love and go back to just being a civilian. Can he? Or does he say goodbye to the assured family holidays, get togethers, birthdays, celebrations, Sunday dinners and trade it in for this lonely, sacrificial life that has become more than just a part of him? Only he will know. Either way, it will be another goodbye of sorts. And in the meantime, there will be more Goodbyes and "See you laters" to endure.
And as sad and bleak as it all sounds, there is truth in the saying " Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise". Because on the flip side of all of those "Goodbyes" are "Hellos". And those.....THOSE, make the Goodbyes bearable.