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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

The Irish, and other goodbyes

I haven’t been at home for more than two weeks at a time in the past two years.

I’ve lived in South Bend, Ireland, New Hampshire, South Bend again, Florida and now Ireland again. In between these travels, I have stopped at home in Chicago, but never for much longer than the time needed to unpack, wash my clothes and pack again.

This has inevitably led to a lot of goodbyes. And no matter how often I have to say goodbye, it never gets any easier.

“Goodbye” is funny, though, because it’s one of those things people know how to say in a bunch of different languages, even if they're not fluent. Adios, au revoir, arrivederci, aloha — just a few off the top of my head. Still, that doesn't make actually saying it any easier.

Perhaps that's why even just in English, there are many ways to say goodbye — not just phrases ranging from the formal “farewell” to the more friendly “peace,” but actual methodologies to ease the pain of parting ways.

In my neighborhood, we use the self-titled “Beverly goodbye.” Whenever you leave a party in my Irish Catholic enclave, you say goodbye to every last person, often chatting with them for a few minutes, probably making plans to see each other again sometime soon. Growing up, my brothers and I could always count on at least another half hour at the party in between the time my parents said we were leaving and when we actually left.

This is not to be confused with the Irish goodbye, wherein you just up and leave without so much as a word or even a nod to anyone else. Maybe it’s easier that way.

Earlier this summer, I faced my most difficult goodbye yet: the permanent kind. I said goodbye to my dad for the last time May 27, the day I left for my summer internship. He died a month and three days later.

John Flynn Rooney was 56. He battled ALS for a little more than two years (a struggle I wrote about in May), and died peacefully at home.

The day he died, I rushed home from Florida to be with my family. We said a proper and final goodbye a few days later at his funeral.

A few days after that, I had another difficult goodbye. It was time for me to return to Florida to finish my summer internship, which meant it was time for me to once again say goodbye to my family and head out on my own.

I dreaded this goodbye — the one said in the midst of pain and sorrow. It was the most unpleasant goodbye yet.

While writing this, I was trying to decide if there is such a thing as the “Notre Dame goodbye.” Then I remembered you never actually say goodbye to this place. After all, I’m spending my first year post-graduation in Ireland, working for Notre Dame.

And when I was in the middle of that most unpleasant goodbye, I got the best example of the never-ending nature of the Notre Dame goodbye. As I sat at the gate at Midway airport, waiting for my flight back to Florida to board, I heard someone softly call my name. I looked up from my book to see one of my best friends from Notre Dame, smiling and coming in for a hug. She was on her way back to South Bend to continue ACE classes after a weekend away at a wedding, but in that moment she was Christ in my life, a sign reminding me that goodbyes are never easy, but always necessary for us to continue to grow.

At the beginning of a new school year, we’ve all had to say goodbye to something — your family, your friends from home, perhaps your dog. For you freshmen, this is probably the first time you’ve said goodbye to your family and your home for this long. For you upperclassmen, by now your back to school goodbyes are probably rehearsed and easy.

But no two goodbyes are alike. Some of you are probably leaving a difficult family situation. Perhaps some of you are studying abroad, and saying goodbye to the United States and to your friends at school. Yesterday, I said goodbye to my family and my home as I prepared to leave for a full year in Ireland.

Goodbyes are never easy, but for the most part, each one is easier than the last. And whenever I have trouble remembering that, I think of the words of Richard Bach, who in his 1977 novel “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” wrote: “Don't be dismayed at good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.