The ugly business of saying good-bye


A week to go. A week!

What a strange limbo this is.

I went out to buy fruit the other day, paused at the end of the driveway, sighed, and turned left instead of right.

What a coward. Instead of heading to my favourite little fruit shack up the road, I went to the big, bland, unfriendly place down the road, spoke to no one and slunk back home with my inferior produce.

It’s so stupid to be avoiding the Raspberry Man who I have enjoyed talking with so much over the last 18 months.

Today I realised why I’ve been doing it. The business of leaving is messing up the business of living.

Summer hailstorm

The special thing about living in another country rather than just taking a holiday is that you are not leaving.

You get to do all the exciting stuff – the travelling, exploring, hiking, lunch, socialising – but you also make friends, new but true friends, and get to know your neighbours and chew the fat with the man who sells you your fruit and vegetables.

Chestnut season

The philosophy of this entire experience has been to live in the moment, treasure each day.

Now, suddenly, every conversation is about leaving.

How are the children feeling? Are you sad? What’s the first thing you will do when you get back? Will you come back again?

They’re all perfectly reasonable questions but they draw a line between the other person and you. They’re staying. You’re going.

This conversation takes you out of the moment of enjoying the company of the person you are with and puts you in the future. In a way it’s like you’ve already left.

I have no doubt that the very dear friends we have made here will remain friends for life but I am sad because our daily life with them will be over, already is over, because it’s all become about leaving.

“I’m going to miss having lunch out here,” Small said the other day as we gathered around the wonky mosaic table under the grapevines on the terrace , scoffing a lunch of salad, ham, baguettes with our favourite olive oil and artichoke spread from the market. The plantain trees still have all their leaves, the garden is still lush and green, the sun is warm and giving off that clear, soft Provençal light that enhances the colours of nature.

Yes indeedy. He’s not the only one.

On our first day here, Sabbatical Man and I held our first toast: “Nous sommes ici [we are here],”we said, with a clink of our glasses, looking out over our first sunset.

We have remembered to do that toast most days, whether we were here at home in Aix-en-Provence or walking the Cinque Terre or in the Alps or sitting in a pub in London or cooling off in Marrakech or warming up in rural Iceland.

We are here.

There is so much to look forward to at home. Most of the people we love in the world are there but we haven’t been sad about the distance from family and friends because we knew our time here was so short and that they would wait for us.

That probably sounds heartless but I speak from experience as one who has done the waiting. For most of my life it was me staying behind while the people I loved went to live in far-flung places, returning after two or five or 20 years or sometimes only for holidays. I didn’t love them any less.

Then, some time later, you sit down at a table together and it’s like you’ve never been apart.  It doesn’t matter how many years pass between meals. No point in being sad about it. I had better remember that.


Napoleon beetle

Our life in New Zealand is beautiful and I appreciate more than ever all the good things about home.  I cannot think of a better place on Earth to raise children and you would be amazed how many French people say that if they could move anywhere, they would move to New Zealand. I encourage them to.

On the other hand, this adventure of living in another country, learning another language and travelling as much as we can, has been so much better than we dared hope that it’s only natural to want it to continue.

The children have changed, we have changed. We have learned so much, seen so much, done so much.
DSC08322Also, we have learned so little, seen so little and there is so much more to do.

Every day must be enjoyed to its full potential.

So, yesterday, I paused at the end of the driveway, sucked it up and turned right.

I drove up to my favourite little fruit shack, walked in the door, grabbed a basket and called out a “Bonjour!” as I could see Monsieur C was busy serving a customer.

A few moments later I looked up to see that he had come out from behind his counter with a huge grin on his face and his hand stretched out toward me.

Alors, comment ça va?” he said warmly.

Ça va, ça va,” I said, taking his hand.

“You’re leaving soon?” he said.

“Yes, next Wednesday.”

“Wow it’s very soon. And the children? Are they happy to be returning home?”

And so it went on.

It was a very nice talk and it went went on for a long time.

I didn’t cry. I left with a smile on my face, a warm feeling in my chest and a bag containing two courgettes, six pears, two onions and a box of free raspberries.


22 thoughts on “The ugly business of saying good-bye

  1. Well I have so enjoyed reading your blog over the last 18 months. It feels like I have been there too with all of you – your writing has been so descriptive, fun, enlightening, and I am going to miss it.

  2. I cried.
    One of my biggest anxiety trips is ‘leaving’…..I totally get where you are coming from. Doesn’t help being in such a remarkable part of the world.
    See you soon amazeballs blogger.

  3. Here’s the thing. We have been waiting for you to come back for the whole time you’ve been away. And now – next week! But I’m teary-eyed, thinking “How sad to leave. They should stay.”

    So, come home. Be embraced by all those who love you to bits. When you get tired of answering all the questions, refer us back here, to your wonderful record of the time. And your toast will be as perfect in Auckland as it has been in France and beyond.

    I think I might start using it.

    Nous sommes ici. And haere mai, e hoa.

    • Sob. Jeez Helen. You see, these lovely comments are just what the doctor ordered – a reminder of all that we miss about home which is mostly the people we have known for years and love to bits.I’m going to give you a big hug and cry all over you. On a brighter note, L is interested in going to cubs – do you think R would like to do it with him? I think Steve’s going to try to be a Camp Mother or whatever they call it.

    • Thanks Jane – I swear you’re my most loyal reader. I’m going to print you out a certificate. I have let myself shed a few tears today and I just hope that I’ve expressed adequately that it’s about the leaving, not the arriving…..

  4. Hey every conversation back here is about when you are coming back! Kinda glad you’re leaving as we have missed you loads here but can understand how hard it is … but then again you’re so incredibly lucky to have grown so many great friendships all over the place. So looking forward to seeing you all ….. and you MUST keep up the writing. I so love opening each post, gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous!

    • Thanks Katrina – I have told so many people here about the fantastic community we live in with dear friends living all around us. It will be so lovely to see you and everyone again! xx

  5. I will miss your wonderful stories about living in France – but will be happy to have you back home. There are volcanoes to be saved!

  6. I read this in the wee hours, as I was up with insomnia yet again, and your description of your feelings about leaving France touched my heart, as I have felt exactly those feelings some years’ back.
    Travel safely home. It sounds as though you will be bear-hugged to breathlessness on your return to Auckland, and you’ll probably need cooling cucumber eye-patches for a while 🙂 xx

  7. We are so lucky our paths crossed with you wonderful kiwis. Its not good bye…just au revoir, n’est ce pas?
    I am counting on you to keep writing Karen.
    Much love to you, Sabbatical Man and S, M and L.

  8. Karen, I have loved reading your words. The moments and thoughts have made me smile, laugh out loud and get teary-eyed at various times. It must be so hard to leave but we are looking forward to seeing you and can’t wait to compare how much our boys have grown! Safe trip home. xx

  9. Très beau, K. Pourtant, triste aussi. Tu as mis parfaitement sur la page des sentiments que nous partageons, tu sais, et que nous n’oublierons jamais. On peut pas revenir pour revivre la même expérience, mais les aventures peuvent continuer!
    Courage mon amie (face aux ours polaires)!

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