A Time To Say Goodbye


“I am so sad,” my son Joel, who is 9, sighs, his restless energy making us all more miserable. All of us wished this day wouldn’t come, this day that marks the last stages of goodbye, not for a person but for a place. And although I’ve known the sadness of funerals before, and I realize the grief shouldn’t be compared, I’m doing it anyway. My in-laws have sold their beach house, the center for family gatherings for 15 years, and bought a smaller house nearby. It is a pretty home near town. Still, our hearts ache with the loss.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Jewish theologian, speaks of Shabbat as being “like a palace in time.” We’ve been blessed with a sanctuary in both time and place. Life moves at a different rhythm near the beach, and our palace has been one of light and space and beauty — custom-designed by my father-in-law, an architect. To be sure, frictions arise in a family home over who gets which room, over what gets cooked for dinner, over who prepares it. But for city parents living in cramped quarters, there’s nothing better than watching one’s children romp across acres of lawn, especially if a loving grandparent is nearby, or cousins are at the ready, yearning to create a water slide, plan a game of softball or build a snowman.

“To everything there is a season, and now it is the time to let go.” I say these words on Saturday evening, part of a ceremony we hold in the long dining room where we have enjoyed so many celebrations, where I remember congregating during a Havdalah ritual eight years before, when we watched as the stars suddenly emerged all at once in the inky black sky, and I marveled at how the lights were popping out faster than teeth in my baby Joel’s mouth. And now, on this final evening, here’s my daughter Talia, almost 12, and often brimming with attitude, pouring forth a steady stream of memories. Her tone earnest, she sits with her knees folded against the gleaming wooden table, and talks of “hikes” from one part of the yard to the other, of hanging up bird feeders, and of how she’ll really “miss that pool.”

My inspiration to hold a farewell ceremony comes from Rabbi Amy Walk Katz. The rabbi, who is now the spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Springfield, Mass., planned a similar event when her family moved from Kansas City in 2008. “We walked around to each room and said goodbye, and we recalled special memories. We did it during the dusk hours, so it felt like something was waning…,” recalls the rabbi.

Vanessa Ochs, author of “Inventing Jewish Ritual,” emails that she also found closure before a move. Friends “took turns symbolically twisting the screws off the mezuzot that would be coming with us, and wrote in a blank book the blessings that they wished for us in our new home and new lives.”

I imprint images in my mind of this beautiful house and its memories, my daughter following me in circles on the upper lawn, her legs wobbly, her smile unshakable; my son giggling in his grandpa’s arms in the hallway, grandpa saying how amazing this child is, and not even 2. Before we light the Havadalah candle, which bids a final farewell to the sweetness of Shabbat, Jeremy recalls the first time we came here after Joel had been born. It was a period of great dislocation, particularly for Talia. But when we opened the door to this house, there was grandpa playing a lively tune on the piano, and grandma wanting to dance with Talia and a grin flashing across our toddler’s face.

The next morning, as Jeremy loads box after box into our car, I steal a moment to gaze at the backyard, where my children have swung and swum on so many warm afternoons, and where the snow now falls in large, wet flakes. Even the sky is crying, I tell Joel and Talia. If either hears me, they don’t respond. Minutes later, we are driving away, our hearts aching but also full, looking forward to what awaits around the next bend.

Elicia Brown’s column appears the second week of the month. eliciabrown@hotmail.com.