Learning to say goodbye during the pandemic

A reflection on my life during COVID-19

Bianca doesn’t want to leave anything unsaid.

I think it’s safe to say everyone has learned something new during the pandemic. Some people picked up knitting, others learned how to skate. What I gained this year, however, was something more significant to me than any hobby. I learned how to say goodbye.

I’ve never been good at goodbyes. They make me uncomfortable; I don’t enjoy large displays of emotion. I’m much better at describing biochemical processes than explaining my own feelings. I never thought there was a particular issue with this—until this year.

This past year forced me to do a lot of things I wasn’t particularly thrilled to do. When the pandemic first began last March, I thought saying temporary goodbyes to my friends at Queen’s was painful enough. Watching everyone pack their bags and head home until September made me surprisingly melancholic—I had no idea what was waiting for me around the corner.

For me, the initial months of the pandemic were spent at home. I decided to move away from campus and use lockdown as an opportunity to spend more time with my family. In particular, I was able to spend a great deal of time with my beautiful golden retriever, Darwin. I spent many days walking him by the river or watching him dive into the water to show off his impeccable swimming skills. I can’t pinpoint what day it was when he had his last swim, but I wish I would have known it at the time: I would have memorized every detail.

Darwin died on July 31, 2020.

It was the first time I had ever truly experienced the death of a loved one. It was the first time I’d ever felt that kind of pain. I remember the night my parents loaded him into the car to be driven to the vet. I couldn’t physically get out the word, “Goodbye.” I simply patted him on the head, gave him one last kiss, and turned away, unable to watch him leave the house. Even then, I was suppressing the truth that I would never see him again.

In that moment, I knew I had some growing to do. I will always regret not giving him the goodbye he deserved. 

I believe one of the most painful things you can experience is watching a loved one hurting, when there’s nothing you can do to help them.

My uncle died as a result of COVID-19 in December. Watching my mother grieve the loss of her little brother was so heartbreaking. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain she felt and continues to feel. He died in hospital after serving as a doctor on the frontlines for several months. He was admitted to the intensive care unit, and family members were not allowed to visit him due to risk of viral transmission. My mother was not able to say goodbye to her little brother before he died. She, like many others, was robbed of the opportunity for closure. So many things had been left unsaid between them, and that’s what hurts her the most. 

When I look back on the incidents from the past year, I can see they all share one thing: they all feel incomplete. What haunts someone more than a goodbye are all the things left unsaid beforehand. That pit of regret is one that can never be filled. The clock cannot be rewound, and time that has passed will forever be lost.

For the majority of my life, I’ve been afraid to speak my feelings, afraid to tell people how much I loved them for fear of a sense of awkwardness or vulnerability. I’m no longer afraid.

I’ve taken the fear I once had and turned it into purpose. When I make the ultimate goodbye from this earth, I don’t want to have any regrets. I don’t want to have left anything unsaid or dreams unaccomplished due to fear. The fear of regret is much stronger than the fear of being vulnerable.

Being surrounded by death, both in my personal life and in the media, has made me reflect on my mortality. I believe that few people, university students especially, take the time to contemplate the reality of their limited time. Accepting the fact that I won’t be this young forever took me a while to fully comprehend. I’ve spent many days during the past months contemplating how I want to live my life and what type of person I want to be. I’m still trying to figure out a lot of things, but I’m closer than I was before the pandemic began.

Although this year has wreaked havoc all around the world, I like to believe that some good may rise from the pain. A lesson can be learned from all disasters, especially if I look through my experiences with different lens. I see now that not all goodbyes are bad.

I’ve learned how to make goodbyes hurt a little less: by ensuring that nothing is left unsaid. I’m no longer afraid to tell people I love them, or to act on the dreams I have for my life, regardless of what others may think. I’ve learned to say goodbye, not only to people, but also to past perceptions I had of myself and the way I thought I wanted my life to be. Through personal reflection after heartbreaking times, the ideologies I once had of the world have changed drastically, and I can honestly say I have grown as an individual.

I wanted to share my experiences because I know many people have endured great pain this past year. My advice would be, once you can, reflect on what the pain can teach you.

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