Saying goodbye

When my partner and I were in Buenos Aires on the way back from seeing my son, his wife and my two grandchildren in Bariloche, we met an intrepid elderly couple (well, the same age as us) from Seattle at the hotel who were travelling around Latin America. We kept bumping into them in various places (they were obviously using the same Lonely Planet guide, US version) and after chatting we said things like ‘Goodbye, enjoy the rest of your stay’, and it became a bit of a joke.

Well, there are ‘goodbyes’ and then there are ‘goodbyes’. The most difficult one was when my son, his wife and my granddaughter, then aged 3½, (grandson was not yet born) were leaving Barcelona for Argentina over four years ago. My partner and I had arrived for Christmas and my daughter, her partner (who is from Barcelona where they were visiting his mother) and their three girls (toddler boy was also not yet on the scene) came to stay the night. We crowded into the little living room of the typically Catalan single-storey terraced house which had a huge blazing fire. We ate empanadas and a huge roast of pork and opened presents – all very festive, but the ultimate ‘goodbye’ was lurking in the shadows and flickering in the fire.

The time came when my daughter and her family had to leave and ‘goodbye’ had to be said. Just awful. My daughter, who has a strong sense of family and would like everybody to be living just around the corner or at least in the same continent, was beyond sad, beyond upset, tears flowing. It was difficult to bear. Her brother’s eyes were full, but he was trying not to cry – he had been concentrating on the idea that going to live in Argentina was exciting, an opportunity to learn about his wife’s culture, a huge adventure. But my daughter knew she wouldn’t be seeing or hugging the brother, with whom she had been close, for years. Also, she had always thought that her children and his would grow up knowing each other and even sometimes playing together. Travelling to Argentina for one person is expensive, with a family of five (now six) tricky without winning the lottery: the flight to Buenos Aires plus another 2 ½ hour flight towards the Andes. And my son has a fear of flying so it’s unlikely he’d travel back to the UK, even if he had the money.

‘I  wish people could try to see it as exciting for me, mum,’ my son said later. Well, I tried. It was a bit easier for me who was intending to visit the family in Argentina and apart from not being able to control tears in a Chinese restaurant (my son’s favourite food is a Chinese – he took his wok to Bariloche) where we were having a ‘goodbye’ meal with his wife’s aunt and daughter, I managed to achieve a cheery, ‘see you soon’ goodbye with my granddaughter and an optimistic-sounding ‘goodbye’ with my son when he came see us off at Barcelona airport.

I have visited the family in Bariloche five times now and it is always difficult to say ‘goodbye’, although I know I’m going to go back again for as long as I can. These days my 7-year-old granddaughter doesn’t like ‘goodbyes’, doesn’t want to come to the airport to wave me off and sometimes hides herself away. This time I had to look for her. She backed herself into the corner by the back door as I approached. ‘Goodbye’ she said in a kind of strangled, desperate, heartrending way and escaped outside. It felt as if I was abandoning her – horrible. My son told me later she is fine now, as I’m sure she is, but the memory of it still lingers with me now I’m back home.

After a coffee in the airport cafe where my grandson was his usual noisy, bouncing self,  I hugged my son, who seemed ok in the knowledge I’d be back, and kissed my grandson ‘goodbye’. He was unusually silent. We walked down the passageway towards security and I looked back. My grandson was watching us disappearing, his face very, very serious, his eyes round and perplexed – awful. But apparently he is still saying quite cheerily ‘Granny gone on the airplane’.

So while the couple from Seattle continue to wend their way to Bolivia, Peru or somewhere else in Latin America, this granny is back home in the UK and it is wonderful to be hugged ‘hello’ and to be told ‘we’ve missed you’ by granddaughters 1, 2 and 3, Toddler boy, my daughter and her partner. But I miss the family in Bariloche too. As my grandson there might sing: ‘Where has granny gone, where has granny gone? Far far awaaaaay.’

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