Monday, March 27, 2006

adios, sayonara, goodbye

Inevitably, in the field in which I work, people leave. The turnover rate is high in social services probably due to high stress, low pay, and little vacation (but who's keeping track?) Last week a colleague announced that she is leaving.

As an adult, I know that she is leaving for good reasons, making a decision she needs to make at this point. But for our students, even healthy goodbyes are hard. Goodbyes are not easy when you've been left or abandoned by people you loved or trusted. Goodbyes are just more complicated for these kids.

She's been like a mama to many of these students, a safe haven, someone to have your back, someone to talk to, not afraid to give advice or criticism. To other students she's a good friend or an older sister. But one thing is for sure. She will be missed when she goes.

My students are all upset, all grieving the loss of someone they care about, some angry she's going, others feeling like they are responsible for her choice to leave. And other kids act like they don't care at all, because they learned long ago not to invest care or emotion in others, because everybody leaves at some point.

The other staff members and I are working crisis after crisis, defusing kids' anger, handing kids kleenexes while they process their grief, helping kids plan a meaningful goodbye.

When this co-worker came to me with tears in her eyes, surprised and overwhelmed by the force of emotion she felt, I could sense so clearly her ambivalence. She was second-guessing her decision, consumed by the grief of her students who so badly want her to stay. I encouraged her that sometimes the best decisions for ourselves aren't the easiest ones to make. I let her know that she had been such a powerful influence on these kids, and in her leaving, she had the ability to leave in an equally powerful way. She has the ability to model for these students how to positively end a relationship, how to say goodbye in a way that facilitates healthy grieving.

And, in a way, I am glad for them. I'm glad that for once in their lives, these kids will feel some sense of control, will understand a little more clearly how positive, healthy relationships handle goodbyes. I know it won't be easy, but it will be transformative.

The kids are planning all sorts of wonderful goodbye rituals and gifts. We're thinking of doing a candle ceremony to mark the end of her time with us, and the beginning of her time with her new job. At the end of the ceremony, we'll allow her to blow out her candle, to extinguish the time with us.

And smoke and ash will remain where once the flame burned. We will have to mourn her leaving. We will grieve the loss of her presence and her gifts. We will learn to let go of hurt and anger and sadness.

But my blog isn't called "as the noonday" for nothing. I know in my heart that these kids will go on, they will learn to follow the flame of their own candles, to see light past the darkness, and noonday will come after the long night. I wish all grief could be this uncomplicated. But then, I'd be out of a job.

No comments: