Books and the Blessing of Goodbyes

How good are you at goodbyes?

I’m a career pro. My blogging community chose this topic for our monthly challenge, and I was immediately overwhelmed with writing prompts.

Moving from city to city? I’ve done that at least six times. (Goodbye, childhood summers at the pool in Kansas City! Goodbye, Summerfests and State Fairs in Milwaukee! Goodbye, my beloved campus in East Lansing!)

Loved ones? Woo, boy. My father, my youngest brother, my first pregnancy, pets … dropping kids off at college … dear friends … jobs, TV shows, favorite pieces of clothes that were in my closet long past their “wear by” dates … I’m a Sam Smith cliche.

I’ve never given it too much thought, my ability to say goodbye and all the practice I’ve had at it. But given my passion for reading, I can safely say that somewhere in between those millions of pages I’ve read since I was a tot, there’s been a lesson or two in leaving. And in those books which tangled themselves inside my soul, there are characters I loved and didn’t want to leave. I have cried ugly at more endings than I care to admit. The beauty of it, though, was learning that just because you close the cover and say goodbye, those people, places and things you love never really leave.

There are several books that do “Goodbye” like no one has done a goodbye before:

To Be Sung Underwater: When a man says to a woman … “Here’s the thing we have to look at and accept. For you, I was just a chapter—a good chapter, maybe, or even your favorite chapter, but still, just a chapter—and for me, you were the book.” … and you aren’t anguished? I don’t want to know you.

Mosquitoland: A teen’s trip to reconnect with her mother only to find her first true love is more than Lifetime movie material. This is all about growing up and saying goodbye to the memories that hold us back from a better future. Closure is all about making the best of a goodbye and this book has it in spades.

The Light Between Oceans: Izzy, my God, Izzy!

Exit West: When love borne from chaos results in a slow realization you aren’t meant for each other after all, readers can delight in a goodbye that is still affectionate and caring, proving relationships can end without a reality TV-worthy screamfest over who gets the leather chaise.

A Little Life: Oh good lord, Jude. I’ve been preaching about this book since forever, and its author makes an art of the literary goodbye.

The point being, there is an infinite number of stories about the goodbye. It’s one of the most powerful scenarios that evoke the strongest of emotions, making for captivating reading and lessons to derive. But above all, once a story is on paper, it’s forever. Even if the book stays on the shelf, if you loved it, it’s with you forever. This year alone, there’s more than a handful of books where I don’t know if I will ever let the characters go. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, Little Fires Everywhere and Spoonbenders are the first that come to mind.

I’ve closed the cover, but the characters remain. Books make for the best goodbyes.

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