Leaving with Oprah
I am a 36-year old woman with “leaving issues” (read: abandonment trauma from a military childhood filled with too many goodbyes), and the “Farewell Season” of the Oprah Winfrey Show is kicking my butt. Yes, I’m serious (and if you don’t want to hear about it because you can’t relate, move along… click on something else, because I don’t need any attitude from you in the comments.)
Saying goodbye used to be a slip-out-in-the-night kind of thing for me, a survival technique from long ago.
Leaving hurt. So…I pretended it wasn’t happening. When I was in elementary school, I would pick fights with my friends before moving out of state, sometimes even out of the country, without telling anyone. It was a lonely road to travel – no going away celebrations, no letter exchanges with old friends, no history.
That failed attempt to save me from many painful goodbyes left what I like to call “a big black hole of emptiness” inside me. Then, without any concern for the little girl who refused to honor the leaving with ceremony, Change came for me. The endings of places, relationships, familiarity, comfort, and even puppy love… happened anyway. Then, something new replaced them. Change cares not for an unwilling heart.
Anyway, so don’t laugh… or at least brace yourself so you won’t fall down from the laughing – my leaving issues are totally being triggered by the end of the Oprah Winfrey Show. It’s been 25 years. Do the math. I grew up watching that show. I became a woman, and learned what in the hell it meant to be a woman, watching that show. I’ve been inspired, empowered, and educated by Oprah. And because I’ve gained and lost what feels like a thousand pounds with her and her viewers over the years, I straight up sobbed yesterday watching the episode celebrating people who’ve lost more than 100 pounds.
I wish I could say that this was the first time I’ve cried about it ending, but it’s not. I’m an emotional woman, and leaving of any kind breaks open all of those old wounds. I sometimes even cry when I graduate coaching clients (and graduations are supposed to be good things!). Again, the temptation is to turn away, to busy myself at 4:00 pm for an hour each day, to “pretend” not to notice that there are only 11 episodes left. I don’t want to feel sad. I don’t want to cry. I don’t want to say goodbye. And yet, there it is – this…leaving, again.
Last night, I was reminded about why I won’t turn away. I will stay and watch and yes, even cry all the way to the end, because leaving, when done well, can be every bit as beautiful and life-changing as anything that occurred leading up to the end. When my wife’s uncle died of cancer three and a half years ago, it changed me. I think it’s safe to say… it changed all who were blessed enough to be touched by the experience.
His cancer had already done the thing that cancer does – the illness, the fight, the treatments – and the time had come, both medically and personally, for him to focus on the business of what my life coach calls “living with dying.” If death can be done brilliantly, it was done so by this man. He went home under hospice care, and people came – children and grandchildren, siblings, friends, and neighbors – in almost painfully respectful droves to be with him, to laugh and cry, to love him…and, to be loved by him. It was perhaps the greatest goodbye ever.
I walked into that sacred space a complete stranger, literally just weeks into my relationship with his niece, and was welcomed like an old friend. I sat, in complete awe of the graceful beauty of his leaving. To be clear, it was not easy to watch him leave. For weeks it went on, and whether we were there or at home getting updates from family, it broke my heart wide open. It ached. I sobbed. Many moons have passed and still I cry when returning to that time in my mind, when I remember what it felt like to watch them all love one another so profoundly and then… let go.
The experience changed me. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I learned how to let go from him and those who loved him. It made me unafraid of the hurt that comes when someone or something you love must leave. So, I will stay here. I will watch the end of the era that inspired me to do the work that I do. If I thought for a moment that inciting a rebellion would score me a 26th season, I would at least consider it. But Oprah seems ready to leave, prepared to move on to What’s Next, and I’m going to honor us both by showing up for the rest of this heartbreakingly beautiful goodbye.
You get to keep so much more of the beauty if you’re not afraid of the pain.