I find that change takes a big toll on me whether I know it or not, especially with goodbyes. Even when I mentally know it is a for-the-better kind of goodbye, internally, I can get all out of sorts. Such has been the case as we have been transitioning little Rell out of our home. In a few weeks, he will be reunited with his family, and while I KNOW that him going back to his family is best, even as I sit here and write about it, I can feel little alarms going off inside that are crying out to hold on as tight as I can—the war between my mind and heart is real and rumbles constantly regarding his soon departure.
I didn’t know it would be so hard for me to let go. I also didn’t know it would be so hard for my kids to let go as well.
I started telling my oldest son a couple weeks ago that Rell would be going back to his home. At first, he didn’t say much and only asked a few questions.
“Will we see him again? Is he leaving forever?”
“Well, I hope we can still see him from time to time. But yes, he will be living with his family forever.” Then after a long pause and with the most convincing smile I could manage, “Isn’t that great?!”
Seeing my unexpected enthusiasm, he searched my eyes to look for the traces of sadness and hurt he suspected were there. How did he know? Maybe it’s because he is the child who grew in my womb just inches away from my beating heart, and he knows it too well. Whether beating or bleeding, he knows it, and in this moment, it was bleeding.
Nonetheless, because I was determined to only be happy about this situation, he let it go and accepted my pretense while forcing a smile of his own. He said he was happy because he could play with all his toys again and have his bed back. “Hooray,” he said under his breath.
But then a week went by, and it didn’t take long for me to see there was a war going on inside of my son as well. At first, I noticed little things like a little more bickering between the two. Soon bickering turned to insult which turned to what felt like a fierce cold war. And it was entirely one-sided coming from my son’s end. What was going on? For months, I saw no such hostility from any of my children toward Rell, but now it was all coming out full force.
Then I realized—my son is trying to disconnect. He knows his “brother” is leaving, and it’s hard for him too.
Because each of us in our own unique ways has been going through this same process and acting in ways we don’t mean to act. While on the outside, we all wildly celebrate the victory for Rell’s family, we also grieve the loss of a child we have come to accept as part of our own and don’t know what to do with ourselves. Will he even remember us?? And all the while, our hearts have been alerted to defend themselves at all costs and to detach from this one we’ve all come to deeply love.
I, for one, found myself feeling jealous, insecure, sad, unsure, and scared. Sure, I praised God for the good news, but I was also jealous of his family who would get to enjoy seeing the rest of his life, insecure that he’d forget all about us, sad that I may not have done my best for him, unsure what life would be like when he’s gone, and scared I would never be able to open myself up to another child again. What’s worse was that all of this quickly translated into irritability, impatience, and an overall grouchiness that I could not shake off. I wished I could return the boy without a second thought, like a robot, but that was obviously not possible—I was so human it hurt.
I, too, was disconnecting.
But once I realized what was happening and that poor Rell was getting the brunt of my selfish defenses, I stopped myself. One day after seeing how cold I had been, I held him close and told him, “I’m so sorry. I’m not mad at you… I promise. But I’m going to miss you a lot.” He didn’t know why I was apologizing, but being the compassionate boy he is, he gently responded, “I miss you too momma…love you,” and hugged me tight before running off to play.
He has no idea, really, what is going on inside me, but without knowing it, he is also teaching me a great deal about saying goodbye.
For the last five+ months, Rell has taken in another whole family into his heart and has traveled back and forth between us and his biological family every few weeks. In the times he has been at our home, he has FULLY been with us and has given us his all, loving us and allowing us to love him in return. He calls us umma and appa (mom and dad in Korean) and knows he has a place in our arms anytime he wants. Yet at the same time, it was always evident how much he still loved his family back at home whom he said goodbye to for the week. By the way he always talked about them, we knew for certain they were always in his heart even when with us.
What was surprising, however, was that whenever he went back to his family for a weekend visit, he would cheerfully say goodbye to us and go back to his family, only to do the same thing to there. He would love being with them so much, but we were also always told that he talked about us constantly with such endearment. They said they could tell he loved us so much, just like family.
The fact was, whether here or there, his heart had grown big enough to hold us all.
And that is what I learned we could do as well.
Now that the time is nearing for Rell to go home permanently, I have desperately been trying to wrap my mind around this concept of goodbye. Except now, I no longer mourn a loss, but I take great comfort in this supernatural God-given ability I have witnessed in Rell for our hearts to expand and forever carry the people who come into our lives, no matter where they may go. I can cheerfully say goodbye, just as he always has, and bless him or anyone else on their journey onward, knowing we will not be left with a void but with a special place in our hearts permanently filled with the memories and blessings that were brought through their very real presence in our lives. And there are so many.
So with gladness, I have learned to say goodbye. Goodbye to this little boy, goodbye to many who have left us before, and goodbye to the many who will come hereafter. It has been our greatest joy to have had Rell and so many other amazing people come and go in our lives, and I can now say that it was all well worth it and that I also hope it never stops. Our family will open our hearts wide and welcome in anyone as family every time—sometimes for a day and sometimes for a month but always for a lifetime.
I bless you and your family Rell. I will never forget you, and I thank you for all the memories and lessons you have taught me. Umma loves you so much and there will always be a place for you in our hearts and in our home. Please be well. Kisses and hugs.