My son learned to say “byebye” a few months ago. Learned how to wave before he learned to say “byebye”, actually. It wasn’t long before we noticed that he would wait to say “byebye” to people.
We’re not sure why. Maybe he’s trying to process how to wave and say the words, or processing that we are leaving, or that someone else is leaving, or deciding if he’s just in the mood to say it or not. But very often we will say “byebye”, and he will stare at us, and look around. After my wife or I head out the door, trot down the steps, and carry him down the sidewalk, he will take out his pacifier and say “byebye”. It’s almost as if he waits until the person is actually gone, out of his line of sight, a person once in his single moment of living, and no longer there for now, maybe to come back later, or probably still right around the corner.
There’s a kind of zen to his little farewells, a spirituality that may be coincidental for a baby but means more to me. “Byebye” isn’t always something to say when we last see a person for the day, for the year, or for life, but something to say after we move on. After we share a kiss or a hug, after we say our farewells, after we wave to one another us from behind the window, we are driving down the road, thinking still of that person, and saying to ourselves, “byebye”.
When someone dies, we no longer can tell them goodbye in their living presence. Yet we hold a funeral to say goodbye to them. It is not for them so much as it is for us. After they’ve parted from us, we gather together and say to ourselves, “byebye”.
Years after we’ve said goodbye to someone, alive or dead, we have moments when we are to ourselves, maybe wrapped up in something that reminds us of them, and we smile to ourselves and say, “byebye”.
Or maybe, just like our son, we are merely experiencing a delayed reaction, not yet ready to say “goodbye” until we’ve felt like it or processed what has happened.
Sometimes it’s not something we say as a farewell, but to say when we want to hold on.