Can’t have new adventures without painful goodbyes

Sarah Becking is a reader columnist for The News Tribune.
Sarah Becking is a reader columnist for The News Tribune. Tacoma

I write this last column from a camp chair in my basement as movers load all my earthly possessions onto a truck for the 12th time in 23 years of marriage.

The gracious house where my family dwelled for 2 years echoes with memories as dust bunnies roam the empty floor. We thought we’d be here longer, but expectations are fragile in the face of military necessity.

I feel my time in the Pacific Northwest is incomplete. I’m not done exploring and enjoying this place and its people. I’ve already said painful goodbyes to friends who moved before us, to our cat who flew cargo to my mom’s house to avoid a month of chaos, and to friends who are staying here.

I burst into tears at the slightest provocation, because every activity drips with meaning. The last time I made cookies in this kitchen. The last time I hiked Mt. Rainier. Worked with my food bank friends. Swam in this pool. Worshipped with this church.

I’ve come to love every single home. I haven’t hardened my heart. People often remark on how I throw myself into the community, jump right in. Most military spouses do the same. If we wait, we’ll be on hold for years... or decades, which isn’t living.

Because I get involved, my heart breaks every single time. I imagine some might think military families are insincere or hard-hearted as we move on, breaking up our communities. We’re not. It hurts us, too.

I wake up many mornings wondering where I am, having dreamed of some dear home from my past. The heavy emotions make me reluctant to communicate with my friends. I can’t bear another goodbye. I know I can’t summon words adequate to express how much they mean to me, so I don’t want to try.

I’ve learned over the years that I have to face the grief and give those parting words my best effort., otherwise I hurt my friend and myself, and then I’m not ready to start fresh in the next place.

Yes, I’ve learned some practical things that make the process easier. And I know I’ll survive the pain, because I always have. I make friends fast, because I’ve learned to, I’ve had to. But I still mourn when I leave.

As my family entered the month of packing up, I recognized another familiar dynamic. I feel sad. But I also feel distracted by the hundreds of details I have to keep track of and accomplish for the move to go smoothly. The many tasks often act as a counterbalance to the sadness.

The only way to get out from under all the tasks is to finish them and depart -- the very thing that is making me sad. It’s a bit like having a baby. I’m facing a long stretch of hard work and pain, but at the end there’s joy again. There’s no way out, only through.

My sense of being “home” breaks as soon as I begin physical preparations for the move. At the grocery store, everyone else is stocking up, but I’m only purchasing items to go with the foods I’m using up from my freezer. They go about their lives in a normal time-frame, but mine ends with the moving truck countdown.

Neighborhood life swirls around me, but without me. I feel queasy, an existential motion sickness manifested by being uprooted.

I’ve done all the homework on my next place. I’ve spoken with staff at my kids’ next school, found the church we’ll probably join, even been in touch with our future next-door neighbor. There’s lots to look forward to. But the South Sound has left an indelible impression on my life.

Goodbye, Tacoma. I hope to see you again someday.

Sarah Becking of JBLM is a military spouse, volunteer and one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Email her at SarahLibrary@yahoo.com