Cutting Cords: The Right Way to Say Goodbye

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Saying “goodbye” and “letting go” are not the same thing.  Knowing the difference can mean everything to you.

Cutting ourselves loose from friends and intimates is something that we all must learn to do at some point in our lives, and it’s one of those things that there are no lessons for.  We inevitably make mistakes.

Saying goodbye is difficult, but being said goodbye to is much harder, and that is what makes saying goodbye so hard to do.  Deserved or not, we are all reluctant to hurt another.  We tell ourselves it is for fear of reprisal and discomfort, but that’s not really true is it?  We’re really afraid of being wrong, of hurting a good soul wrongly.

I hardly need to say that there are sound reasons for us to say goodbye to another, of removing him or her from our lives.  People who hurt us, physically, mentally, emotionally, or those who are a danger to our growth and happiness must be removed—that‘s the no-brainer of goodbye.

Other times, we must accept the fact that we will grow apart from people we’ve had significant relationships with, and understand when someone no longer positively affects our lives.  We owe it to ourselves not to let them hinder our growth.

As you move forward in life, you may need to change your circle of friends.  Everyone around you isn’t interested in seeing you improve.

Still others may be positive forces in your life that you do not yet understand.  Those that challenge you, lead you to face your demons, love you deeper than platitudes, or offer you things you are not ready for.  These can be family, friends, or lovers.  Saying goodbye to these important people can be more dangerous for you than any of the others.  But how do you know?

The worst goodbyes are the ones that neither of you choose; circumstance does the choosing.

My childhood friend Pete was taller than I, a grade up from me, and went to a different elementary school.  He was raw, guileless, and wildly creative; we were thick as thieves.

With Pete nothing was as it was, it was always something greater.  I grew up in a rural suburb adjacent to a dairy farm and endless pastures.  Pete lived just up the road.  We were cornstalk fighting ninjas; jungle explorers searching for a lost Goddess; spear throwing aboriginals who flung thoughts with our spears; we braved bat nests and climbed mythic trees; we spent our idle times wondering what the world would be like if we lived it upside down, what colors smelled like and how sound tasted.  Pete and I ruled our hundred-acre wood.  We would return at dusk for dinner, drenched in glories.

There were only two summers before Pete’s family moved to Massachusetts. It may as well have been Asia.  Our parents weren’t close friends and in those days, the only choice for a kid was pen pals.  We both knew it wouldn’t due and agreed not too.  I stood at the end of his driveway as he jumped into the rear of their packed station wagon.  As the window closed I heard him say, “Aw.. goodbye Gar.”  I never heard anything so final.  He put his hands on the glass as they drove away—and the cord snapped.  I kicked the roadside gravel all the way home in the late August dust.  I never saw him again.

To this day, that is the image my mind carries as “goodbye”.

Even as an adult, I look to my friendship with Pete for teaching me where I thrive…imaginative, playful souls who cannot forget the child inside.  My profession in the arts allows me to collect them, which is a privilege, but true connections are still rare.

When I grew up, goodbye was as final as a gunshot, if you didn’t have a number or address that was it.  Today our vast virtual connections soften goodbye and makes it too easy a choice.  We no longer need to decide, we just fade.

The saddest goodbyes are the ones never spoken.  The ones where you never get to hear your crime; what you said, what you did, why you weren’t enough.  There is a great difference between hurt and damage.  This goodbye does damage.  It is a cruelty that exposes what you are left to conclude was a lie; that you were ever truly close, that you ever truly mattered enough to warrant their discomfort.  A goodbye needs to be spoken; there is no other way.

s goodbye.jpgA woman I once loved beyond measure told me this before she left my life, “I have decided that you will be alright, that you will find someone just like me and that you will be fine, I know it.”  As hard as it was to hear, it was one of the kindest, most loving things anyone has ever said to me.  She knew the right way to say goodbye and cared enough to do it.  It was her words that allowed me to move on.

Unspoken goodbyes land in me as betrayal.  I’ve had my share.

I remember my first marriage counseling session, where after an initial forty-five minutes of me brightly bringing him up to speed on my life, my work, friendships and relationships (who doesn’t like to talk about themselves, right?), I looked up and saw him staring at me, then he said,

“Wow.  So.  You’ve dealt with a lot of betrayal in your life…”

“Say What?”  It was an eye opener for me.

There was no sense or use in wearing that as an identity, but I have become smarter about recognizing it and learned that it is the denial of it that is dangerous.  I know its effect now too, for me, it makes me numb and drains all the color from a person.  (This feeling is ungood and unfair.  Sometimes those who are heartless once cared too much.)

I will always choose to be hurt rather than betrayed.  I think anyone would.

No matter if goodbye is your choice or another’s, you still both share it.  It creates an absence only; it is then up to you to resolve it.  Saying goodbye is different than letting go.  You’re never done until you have cut the cords that connected you and bound you to each other.

Unresolved goodbyes eat your cells.  They create a “dis-ease” and a host of stresses and mind-body trauma that many believe creates disease.  In any case, it is decidedly unhealthy and must be dealt with.  Literally dealt with, not mused over, denied and forgotten—that will put you in a cancer ward.

cords.jpgThere is an ancient Hawaiian ritual called “Ho’oponopono” that I have used.  It is considered a forgiveness ceremony.  It is somewhat complicated and counter-intuitive so I won’t attempt to explain it here, but suffice it to say that these cords cannot be cut with anger, fear, or resentment.  They can only be cut with love, compassion, and forgiveness.  This is the way to let go.  (Nothing is easy is it? Yeah, tell me about it.)

There is an advantage here, however, so cut those cords, cut all of them and don’t worry about whether you are wrong about goodbye or not, because an extraordinary thing will happen if you are.  The cords you truly need will grow back.  You may or may not have that person in your life again, as you or they choose, but those cords that represent truth will always reach and find their way back.  Love is not diminished, like Shakespeare said, “It is an ever-fixed mark, that looks upon tempests and is not shaken.”

Don’t mistake this for an addiction to self-damage by way of repeated attraction to dangerous or abusive people.  You must learn to discern this for yourself, and if you are one who does it—you must stop that.

I do a lot of reassessing after New Years so I’ve been thinking about all of my goodbyes, the ones I would be glad to have back and the ones I am glad I don’t.  All of them, all together are easy now to picture.  We are all within social media’s easy reach (though I have yet to find Pete).  There are a number of them I have reclaimed, and still others I know I will yet. Even those that have passed on; I can still feel their presence.  They’re all still here.  So what is real, what is permanent?

If we could be honest with ourselves and face down the real lie, we would know this:

There is no such thing as goodbye.

There is only hello.

Where, and when, and whether you say it is always up to you.

 

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As I have been thinking of my “disconnections” recently, a Beatles song keeps playing in my head—not “Let it Be”—it’s called “Hello, Goodbye”.

 

 

PART IV: Father/Daughter Stories–The Blue Frog

I’m okay with divorce, I really am. I’m a big boy now, and I like to think that I take responsibility for my choices, but I never planned on, nor was I prepared for, raising a child in what when I was growing up was called a broken home. Double household kids are as common today as spilled milk, and I’m not sure what they are calling it these days, but it is talked about with an air of acceptability that I find unsettling. What substitutes for a home with a mother and a father and a singular sense of belonging for something as fragile as a new life?

Starting out life in a toxic or loveless place can be far worse; I know that, we all do the best we know how. Psychologists now site new studies (and I’ve read them) that reveal that children of divorced parents learn better relationship skills and can become stronger and more productive people. I accept that, yet none of that matters one tiny little bit the to heart of a small child. These are the same psychologists who like to point out the rising dysfunction in young people today.

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A kid can get good parenting, and know that they are loved, and that matters immensely, but it is the fractured sense of belonging that is the hurt that cannot be undone. I have always referred to my place as “home” or “our house,” but Madi still talks of Mama’s house or Daddy’s house, as though she is somewhere in-between.

People would tell me, “Don’t let it bother you, children are amazingly resilient.” I never bought that crap, platitudes for the guilty mind. With all due respect, I’ll take my reality the way my child takes it thank you very much.

The first hurdle was figuring out how to tell a three and a half year old girl that her Mama was not going to be living here anymore. I did my research and spoke to friends, and professionals, and Mama, and found the latest thing. They say tell them only what they can understand at their age, then update as they get older and ask again. It was good advice, and it worked, but the plan only addresses HOW to tell them, WHAT to tell them is the hard part. We started with Mama staying at an apartment because it was easier for late nights at work, and went from there.

It took me some time, but I did figure out, with a little help, what my job was, and it had nothing to do with anger, blame, and resentment. My job as Madi’s Dad is to LIFT. I am relied upon to support and guide in whatever my little charge came here to do, no more. Each of us comes to this world, presumably by choice, with our own unique tasks and challenges, and with our own specific destiny. It is not for me to choose or manage her path, that’s her job. This realization made single parenting one whole hell of a lot easier for me, but there are days that are not so easy, days where you just have to put your head down and do the work.

One night, after about the third or fourth iteration of the on-going explanation, Madi woke up in the dead of night screaming. I thought she had been hurt, because she got right out of bed and walked across the scary dark hallway straight to my bed, which was unheard of. Any parent knows that there are many types of crying. There are cries that say, I want, I’m hurt, I’m hungry, I’m angry, I’m sad, and more. Kids cry. It’s one of the things they do. I am as good as any at flipping the parental switch and letting them cry without a lot of emotional attachment. There is nothing wrong with crying, kids need to cry sometimes, and often you need to let them do so before you step in to help. This night, the cry was none of that, it was something altogether different. It had a sound to it that I had only heard once before from her. This sound seizes the spine and gives you a rush of hot nausea. It is the sound of human suffering, of desperate sorrow, and it is awful. And, when it is coming from your baby, it is excruciating!

Physically she was fine. It took some time before I could get any words out of her other than something about a blue frog. She had had a dream. It wasn’t a bad dream, it was a beautiful dream. I pieced together a story about a blue frog who lived near a tree. Mr. Blue Frog was her friend, and he talked to her a really long time under his tree about many things, and these things made her so happy. She loved Mr. Blue Frog, and Mr. Blue Frog loved her. They were very happy that they were friends. Then Mr. Blue Frog told her that he had to go away. He was going to the North Pole to live with Santa, and he would never be coming back. He had to go, and he would never see her again. He told her that he loved her very much, but he had to say good-bye forever. Then Mr. Blue Frog left.

If I can get her to tell me her dreams, I can usually figure out what is going on with her. This dream was a dread realization that was all too clear to me. Her little subconscious had finally figured it out, and was letting her know that her life would never again be what it was. That the two people she loved and depended on the most, did not love and depend upon each other; that the home she knew, the original place of her belonging, the place she was safe and sure and happy in was torn in a way she did not understand. Personified in this little blue frog, the force of its finality was devastating to her.

The wailing was explosive, and intense, and continuous, and always there was that sound in it. I did everything I could to calm her down; I held her, rocked her, and talked to her. Nothing made even a tiny dent. She had absolute trust in Mr. Blue Frog, and HE said he was never coming back.

Between the wails there were pleas for me to help. “Please Daddy make him come back!” “I want him back again!” Madi was missing her friend Mr. Blue Frog, but I knew what Mr. Blue Frog meant. I remember these pleas like you remember the slow motion details of a traffic accident, and every one cut. “Help me Daddy, bring him back.” “I don’t want him to go! Why did he have to go?! Why did this happen??! Why?!! Tell me!!” “I don’t understand why he had to go!” “I need him Daddy please, help me! Do something! Bring him back! “ “Tell me what to do! I need him with me! I love him! I want my blue frog back!” “TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!”

For my part, I was being lashed, and I knew I probably deserved it. If you had given me the choice then of feeling this, or having the inside of my heart scooped hollow with a rusty spoon, I’d have chosen the spoon!

The wailing and pleading and my feeble attempts to ease them went on unabated for forty minutes. I tried everything I knew to help change the outcome, “maybe he’ll come visit you at Christmas with Santa. Maybe you can dream of going to see him. I’m sure if he loves you he’ll change his mind,” but the blue frog was telling the truth, he really was never coming back, she knew it, and I knew it. Finally I just ran out, I had noting left so I gave up. That’s when the first honest words came rolling out of my mouth as I tried to hide my own tears.

“I am SO sorry Madi, I don’t KNOW what to do, I JUST DON”T KNOW what to do!”

Silence.

We both just sat, numb.

Then, in a tiny, trembling voice she says, “We can write him a letter.”

[POING!!]

“Yes, yes we can. We can write him a letter! What would you want to say in the letter?” She explained what she wanted to say, and then asked, “Can we write a real letter?”

“Sure we can, we’ll turn on the lights, go downstairs, find some paper and a pen and we will write this letter!”

“Can we put it in an envelope?”

“We will put it in an envelope.”

“And put his address on it?”

“Of course we will! Do you know his address?”

“Um, Near a tree.”

“Good enough, that’ll do.”

“And can we put a stamp on it?”

“Yes. We have plenty of stamps.”

“And put it in the mail box for the mailman to take?”

“Absolutely!”

“Okay.”

“Okay!?”

“Let’s go.”

“Let’s go!!”

IMG_3525aThe sun was just coming up when we walked the envelope with the letter to Mr. Blue Frog to the mailbox. Every word carefully dictated, and a special card included for him to return to her when he came back, in the real world. She carefully tucked the envelope into the box and made sure the flag was up so that the mailman would take it. All things considered, we had a good day after that. She never mentioned the little blue frog again, but I have never forgotten him. Later, I pulled the letter out of the box and saved it. I have not opened it until today.

I have not forgotten these posts are about what is GREAT about having a kid, especially mine, so here goes.

Fast-forward four years to this Spring, fathers day I believe. We were visiting grandpa with most of the family there. My sister was going through a divorce of her own at the time, and when she, Madi and I went to take her dog for a walk around the block, she struck up more questions about separation agreements and house selling. Since I had been around that block several times, I was one source of opinion and advice. My sister didn’t know that I had not told Madi of her aunt and uncle’s impending separation. I was unsure how Madi would take it, so I put off telling her about it. By the time the conversation started, it was already too late so I let it run. Madi was happily at the other end of a corgi’s leash and I half hoped she wasn’t paying attention. We finished our walk and went back inside.

Later, my sister recounted to me that once inside, Madi came to her and asked her if she and uncle Steve were getting a divorce. My sister, herself worried about Madi’s reaction, told the truth none-the-less and said that yes, they were. Madi raised her arm to my sister’s shoulder, patted her, and said, “It will be alright aunt Jeanne. I know, it’s hard for a while, but it gets better.”

…And somewhere a little blue frog smiled.

“Reedeep!”

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Letting Go

September 13th: Dead Sibling Day. Before I jet off to Sedona today to sweat in the canyons and consult with Hopi spirits, I thought I would get this done. Not one of my usual posts, but I am deciding to do it because I may have something to say that is cogent for some out there, about letting go; and because one should at least occasionally walk the talk.

My younger sister, Jacqueline Ann Izzo, died about eleven years ago, and today is her birthday. More so than her death date, this is the day I remember her. I had five siblings, and there are now three left thanks to our ‘family friend’ cancer. My brother Kenny died this year in March. Grieving is simple; it’s automatic; in 6-9 months the brain chemicals leech out through your eyes and you’re done. After that comes the really hard part, letting go.

Letting go is hard because it means accepting a new life without that which they gave you and you depended upon. It takes guts, and it feels like betrayal until you understand what letting go really means.

My sister and I shared the middle spot in a family of six kids, so we were close, and she was very, very important to me. Growing up, Jackie was my best friend, my biggest fan, and the reason I am funny. She was the best audience a big brother could have. I could make milk spray out her nose on cue, even when she knew it was coming. On any given day you could walk into a room and find Jackie lying on the floor in tears over something that gave her a laughing jag days ago that just popped back into her head. She laughed at human folly, especially her own, and she never once laughed at anyone’s pain. Mostly though, she was important to me because she believed in me, without ever needing a reason.

Jackie was the first person who taught me that true courage had nothing to do with how afraid and timid you were about life, a lesson I have always cherished. My chronically reticent sister went into the medical profession, and countless people benefited from a strength she reserved only for others. During the years she battled for life, she showed an easy bravery, and when she had fought enough, she had the courage to let go. She died gracefully and well.

I didn’t have that courage, not with her. It wasn’t that long ago that I finally stopped reaching for my phone every time I thought, “I’ve GOT to tell Jack about this!” My daughter’s first name is Jacqueline, because Jackie asked me before she died; we call her Madi, because I knew it would be a long time before I could say the name. It was hardest watching Madi grow up never knowing what an amazing aunt she had missed, though fortunately she has another.

I sucked at letting go.

This year I did let go of Jackie. I cut the cords and finally stopped being the brother missing a sister, a friend, a fan, and a believer. I was very surprised to find out how much better it was. In a way, I got her back. Not really back, because she’s still dead, but there is a clear new voice in my ear, and she sounds very excited for me.

There are two places that I remember Jackie best on Dead Sibling Day, the two of us sitting under the kitchen table, me drilling her on her multiplication tables so she wouldn’t fail a grade, and summers in Nantucket. I’ve been going again since Madi was born, and Jackie is the reason I go. It has been a mixture of memory, tribute, promise, and chore, which has darkened and become heavy over the years. This year, thanks to some cord cutting, all the colors have come back to that place, and they are different.

And this is what letting go does. It makes a space for those things you lost to come from others willing to grant them to you. It is what I would have wanted for her if I had gone first.

I had said that letting go of someone feels like betrayal. It can seem as though you are being asked to disown everything they meant to you, but in truth it is not letting go of them at all; it’s letting go of the “you” you were when you had them, and making new room for others, …and it’s a bitch.

So the moral of the story is: attachments are bad, my friends. And not having them does not mean you are disconnected. Quite the opposite. Remember that, because it is very easy to forget.

I would like to state categorically, that talking about my sister does not make me sad, oh no, not one bit, not anymore. She is remembered not nearly loudly enough. So if you should hear me talking about her and notice me well up a bit, know that it is not sadness, … it’s Presence.

Happy Birthday Jack! I hope you are still saving me a good spot, and don’t mind too much that I’m taking my sweet time. I love you, always have, always will.