Multilingual Road Trip! The Heartache of Saying Good-Bye

by Corey · 4 comments

By Corey Heller
Photo credit: TDC Digital

As I wrote in my previous Multilingual Road Trip! posts (The Answer to Living Multilingually and When Languages Collide) my family and I have been traveling from Seattle (our current home) to northern California (my childhood home). Along the way we have experienced the immense beauty of people and landscapes. We have also confronted language collisions and cultural complexities.

I can’t help but see similarities between our road trip and our journey through life itself.

As our last few days rise up to meet us, I sense that familiar tightening in my chest. It’s a kind of achy-ness that wells up inside me. I become touchy and nostalgic. I pine for that which I do not have; that which is only available here where I am now.

I savor my life in Seattle. I know I will be filled with joy to step into our home again, sleep in our bed again, use our own dishes again. Yet, I also realize that soon we will be more than a thousand miles from my family and childhood friends again. We will be far away from the people I grew up with, the ones who know the expanse of my existence, the ones who love me and my family with a depth only they can possess. Soon their positive influence on my life and my family’s life will be relegated to small, intense bursts triggered by holidays and birthdays.

My aching heart mainly goes out for my children. I feel a guilt for raising them so far away from their extended family. My father died the year I started grad school and my children barely got to know their American grandmother before she passed away. They only have one uncle here in the States.

No one in Seattle can replace this intimacy: A hug from their uncle Thomas, making beads with my aunt Lynn at the dining room table, running through Elkhorn Slough Estuary with my uncle Mike. The texture of experiences spent with family can not match anything we have in Seattle. And it never will.

Saying Good-Bye

There is something primordial and irreversible about the words “good-bye.” The fact that each culture has a variety of ways to intimate the act of separation is a testament to the power that language possesses: “See you later!” “Until next time!” “Take it easy!” “Catch ya later!”

Good-bye is so final. It is so absolute.

When I was young, I had a small bronze horse with a missing leg. I loved it dearly. From time to time I would place it at the entrance of our property and explain to it that I had to go. I explained that we would never see one another again. This was it. The time had come. My bronze horse would look at me with loving, understanding eyes as I silently walked backwards, waving good-bye. Tears would well up in my eyes.

If only I could have looked ahead to my life as an adult and the role that time and distance would play in creating real-life good-byes – over and over again. Some more final than others.

The Path We Choose

I am completely certain that my path has been the right one for me. I can not imagine life without my husband and children in my life. Bilingual homeschooling, multilingualism, culture mixing and clashes – I wouldn’t trade any of it for a moment.

Every international couple knows this feeling of separation that I speak of. They know what comes from deciding to marry someone from another country. One or the other will always be away from home. One will always be away from family; always away from childhood friends. Choosing to go rather than to stay is a choice we only partially make consciously and rationally – falling in love dictates more than we may even admit.

Together with this ache of good-bye is one of realization. We are deeply and fully aware of what we do have each time we let it go and return to receive it again. We do not have the luxury of taking our family members for granted. We are unable to become jaded by daily interactions with those we love most.

I would go as far as to propose that those of us in international marriages appreciate our connections to our extended family and friends more deeply, primarily because we are destined to be apart from family so often and for so long. Distance does make the heart grow fonder, doesn’t it?

Letting Go

As our time here comes to a close, I breathe in deep this mountain air and swim in long strokes through the Yuba River’s cool waters. I listen intently to the crickets at night as they soothe us to sleep with their rhythmic melodies. I will wait until the last minute to wash away this dirt from between my toes and the river sand from my hair. I will pull myself away from this place unwillingly.

And when we are back on the road again, this time heading north, I will embrace the journey fully. Endings and beginnings, tears and joy. The cycle goes on. Each good-bye makes every reunion just that much more extraordinary and sacred.

Do you feel the pain of saying good-bye to family? Do you sometimes wonder why you chose to move so far away from your family members and childhood friends? What do you do to find peace with your choices?

Corey Heller is the founder of Multilingual Living and the Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of Multilingual Living Magazine. Multilingual Living is the place where she shares her knowledge about raising multilingual and multicultural children. Corey, an American, and her German husband live in Seattle where they raise and homeschool their three children, ages 15, 14 and 12, in German and English.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lara-Miya September 12, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Miss you already! I remember that little horse of yours. So glad you stopped in and visited us. I am missing the river since my parents moved away.
My Grandma Jo used to always say “see you when I see you”
at the end of our visits. Really an honest statement, but always made me a little sad as I didn’t always know if I would get to see her again.
I like Aloha, hello and goodbye (Hawaiian) and Shalom, (Hebrew) goodbye and peace.


2 Corey January 3, 2012 at 7:21 pm

So nice to see a comment from you, Lara-Miya, my dearest friend! It was so wonderful to spend time with you and your family – always a highlight to our journey! I love “See you when I see you” but it makes me feel sad too – it leaves us wondering when that will be. Aloha is wonderful! I love it when languages use one word for both! And what a nice combination with Shalom (good-bye and peace) because that is what we want for each other the most: peace with our being separated from one another. The separation is less of the issue than the pain that we feel inside from being separated.

Ironically, Thomas is visiting us right now as I go through these comments and respond to them (finally some down time!). He’s helping the boys learn to program a computer game tonight. The kids love having him here. We will be sad again on Thursday when we bring him to the airport for his flight back. Sniff. Sniff. I’ll have to remember Shalom then more than ever!


3 Tracey September 15, 2011 at 6:09 am

My family lives in Bolivia and in December we are due to take a trip to New Zealand and Australia. This time the big kids won’t be with us and the new adopted Bolivian girls (3.5, 4) will be. They will meet grandparents and uncles and aunties and some cousins for the first time.
At this stage we are hoping that my husband will have a new job here to come home to and we will be together with our big kids again but it is not certain. So we have the pressure of parents begging us to find work in NZ or Oz and stay there so they can get to know their new grandchildren. This is so hard as our desire to live in Bolivia has not left and we know we can’t live near either of our parents as there is not the work there – so they would need to visit us (unlikely to happen more than once or twice a year) and this won’t make up for living closer to our big kids and in a Bolivian/spanish environment for our girls to know their culture.
I hate goodbyes and because we are in this time of uncertainty I feel like it is either a goodbye here in a 2.5 months or a goodbye on the other side of the world in 4.5 months. Either way it will be sad and we leave something behind and our heart aches for what might have been but also exciting because we will have a new beginning somewhere.


4 Corey January 3, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Thank you so much for this touching comment, Tracey! You are so right about goodbyes being so much more painful when times in our lives are uncertain and difficult. It seems that the life of international marriages and families (even if not facing difficulties) is always perpetual pain – one side of the family is always left behind, aren’t they?

I would love to know how things turned out! Where are all of you living right now? What were the goodbyes that ended up taking place? And for how long?


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