I have been thinking a lot about goodbyes this year. I lost my mom in March. I had time to say goodbye, but the words were difficult to find. A goodbye for life. Even in writing this the words feel weird and look wrong on the page. "Lost" seems harsh. Perhaps I should pad it in some way to be more correct? But death is harsh. Should I just say, "is no longer with us"? No, because my mom is still with me in so many ways. She is with me as I travel, for sure, and on every step of this project.
I'm wondering if the words for the goodbye I'm searching for are even necessary. I feel my conversations with her continuing each day, I hear her voice-- both before and after her sickness unraveled her syntax. It is a scary thing to welcome those sounds back, but I am trying to challenge myself to be okay with it.
This is a project about shortening the distance between "here" and "there" -- between the U.S. and Finland, between the towns where my great grandfather was born and a village on Lake Erie, practically unknown to him when he left home. But perhaps that is too simple of a way to look at it (of course it is). The "here" and "there" are also all of the uncomfortable spaces between these difficult moments-- the time between saying hello and goodbye, the years between a diagnosis and hospice, the lag in a conversation between relatives you don't know very well, the silence of water in a Finnish lake, and the space in between the beats of our hearts.
So, as I write and wait for my plane, I am trying to prepare myself to say hello-- to embrace the unknown, despite all of the familiarity that surrounds me in this shiny modern airport. My task is simple: to go to Finland, to listen, to search, to be present. I am not searching for the words to say goodbye to my mom, but instead, how to say hello again.