Friday, October 9, 2015

The Five Stages of Saying Goodbye

The five stages of loss and grief are well-documented. Originally proposed by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross "On Death and Dying", they are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We went through something similar after leaving Brazil. It was a change we were reluctant to make. I remember one evening shortly after moving into our furnished corporate housing in Falls Church during the dead of winter. I slunk slammed a few beers and slunk off to bed without saying a word to Elise. The next morning, she called me out on it and said if that was the way it was going to be here then she wasn't going to put up with it. Of course, that wasn't the way it was going to be in Falls Church, but I don't think either of us knew at that point in time what it was going to be like.

I was truculent, and only after a few months--when spring started to pop its head up again--did I begin to hypothesize that maybe I was suffering a little but of seasonal affective disorder. It would not have been unreasonable to think so. We had just spent two years in sunny Brazil after spending ten years living in sunny South Florida.

Perhaps, I am making too much of our transition back to the States. I think about it a lot. I am usually not one to make a big deal of nothing. We may not have experienced all five stages of loss and grief after leaving Brazil. I don't think there was anger, per se. It's not like we lost a loved one. But there was definitely some depression, acceptance, dealing with emotions we were not used to dealing with. I imagine it will be much the same after leaving India.

First of all, the kids are going to freeze their butts off. They get cold when the mercury dips below a frosty 85. We can be swimming at the pool, and it literally--LITERALLY--be 100 degrees out and one of them say that they are freezing to death. After South Florida, Brazil, and now South India, we could be moving to the desert and they would be cold. Plop them down in Eastern Washington State in December or, maybe worse, as unbelievable as that may seem, Falls Church in January and they might as well be going on a polar expedition to Antarctica. It doesn't help that they have no winter clothes. Thankfully, Elise has started to replenish their winter wardrobe, culling various internet retailers for off-season specials.

I believe I am experiencing stages of saying good-bye to Chennai. There may be five. I don't know. Gone, now, is Stage 1, the phase where I am completely exasperated with everything and everyone Indian. It was short-lived, perhaps a week or two, capped off by a bout with some mysterious tropical, perhaps mosquito-bourne, illness, but seemed to last forever.

By way of example, the roads in Chennai are narrow. Oftentimes, for lack of anyplace else to park, cars line both sides of the road, meaning what was once a two-way street, in essence, becomes a one-way street, but going in both directions. It seemed to me, during my "completely exasperated with India"-phase that every time we would take one of these roads, a car would come in the opposite direction.

The oncoming car would flash its lights--presumably, a single to stop; it was coming through. Mr. Sundar would not stop, and in some absurd game of chicken, both cars kept moving forward even though there was only enough room for one to pass, until both cars were essentially wedged into the street with nowhere to go, because now traffic was piling up behind both of them. It was maddening to watch, when I could so obviously see how this was going to turn out and it could so clearly have been avoided. Again, in a country of one billion people you don't get anywhere by backing down from a game of chicken or ever yielding the right of way, but, ironically, now both cars were immobilized. It seems like a metaphor or an allegory, but for what, I dare not speculate.

Thankfully, that stage of saying good-bye is over, and now can watch two cars wedge themselves into inescapable logjams feeling only weepy sentimentalism.

I ran to work this morning, taking advantage of the fact that I have a driver whose only task at that hour of the day is to drive my clothes to the office for me, a luxury I most certainly will not have in Washington.

It was cooler, though still humid. I ran down Chamiers, and took a quick left at the corner of Greenways. I came up on a guy washing a car on the side of the road. I approached the car from the rear, quickly, as he was washing the hood, and just as he doused the front windshield with a bucket of water, I ran by the side view mirror. He didn't see me coming, and I didn't see the bucket of water coming, and I got drenched. The young man was instantly apologetic, and I could not be mad. The guy, actually, had just done me a huge favor. And I was almost brought to tears by his profound and genuine regret. Damn you, India. I waved him and smiled. He seemed relieved. I ran on.

So, now I am at the stage of saying goodbye to Chennai (the second stage?) where I am just overly sentimental and in love with everything about it. It helps some that the heat has tapered off somewhat.

Recently, a colleague who will soon be moving to Hyderabad sent me a message on Facebook asking me if I would extend our two-year assignment in Chennai a third year (we can't; this is all hypothetical). I replied without hesitation, "In a second."

It hasn't always been easy, but it most certainly hasn't always been hard either. We haven't been back to the U.S. in eighteen months. Do I need a break? Yes. Would I come back after a few weeks in the States? God, I wish we could.

This morning, Elise sent me an email, the subject of which was "woodlands?": "When can I take you to woodlands for lunch?"

Me: "I was just about to email you about this!!!! can you do today? what time do they open? the earlier the better. are they close to the Consulate? I don't have any money until after lunch : ( "

Woodlands is one of Elise's post-photowalk lunch spots that she has been raving about for the last two years. For some reason, I've never got around to going. We rectified that today, two South Indian thalis later. Surprisingly, they do not offer filter coffee after 12 p.m., so we had Mr. Sundar pull us up to the filter coffee stall outside the fruit market we frequent. Two coffees was fifty rupees or thirty-eight cents each. The coffee comes boiling hot, and we poured our coffees back and forth, South Indian style to cool it off, as we stood at the one table outside.

Traffic passed as we chatted, about her brothers, about Sam.

"How did you know I would say yes to go to Woodlands today?" I asked.

"Because you ran to work this morning, and I knew that you wouldn't be running at lunch."

I loved that she knew this about me. I shouldn't be surprised after ten years that she would. So, there will come a stage, perhaps, where everything old becomes new again. As we start to visit usual haunts that have become unconsciously familiar, we will rediscover that which made them special in the first place. It will be a long goodbye. 

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