Contemplating the Difficulty of Parting
Was the Parting Voluntary and Meaningful?
Content warning: suicide, family death
I flew a total of 27 hours to get to Rottnest Island, also known as Wadjemup in the local Noongar language. My partner Chris and I came to Australia to see the Women's World Cup, co-hosted with New Zealand. Chris picked the countries for soccer, and I picked the island for quokkas. They are macropods (a family of marsupials) like kangaroos and wallabies but the size of a domestic cat. They looked adorable in the photos I saw online, and I insisted on visiting them in their only natural habit on Earth.
Quokkas were indeed cute, and I couldn’t help but pick up my camera every time I saw them. In the absence of any predators on the island, they were unafraid of humans, and some rather approached people in the hope of getting food. To protect both parties, it was strictly prohibited to feed or touch quokkas. This morning, I saw one eating a medium-sized leaf in front of a cafe. He was standing on his hind legs and holding the leaf with his tiny front paws. The sight reminded me of Bonny, a rabbit I fostered before this trip. I kept her for five weeks while she was recovering from a urinary tract infection, so she could go to a new home clear of illness.
Parting with Bonny was not easy. Spending every day together for five weeks was enough time to build a bond. It was quite heartwarming to witness how Bonny gradually opened up to me. She responded to my voice and hopped over for treats. She lay flat in front of me and relaxed under my patting hands. Before returning Bonny to the shelter, I wrote a card to the future adopter about Bonny’s likes and dislikes. I drew Bonny and made a garland for her pen. After I situated her in her corner at the shelter, I took the last photo of her. She had her back toward me while checking out her new house. Unknowingly she made it easier for me to walk away. It would have been hard for me to part if she stood at the fence looking at me with her round black eyes.
I thought about the experience of parting as I go through it over and over in my life. I contemplated what makes one parting harder than another and came up with two factors: whether it is voluntary and whether it is meaningful. For example, I was able to process the sense of loss from parting with Bonny because it was voluntary and meaningful. I chose her return date, a few days before my trip, and she was ready to be back at the shelter and meet potential adopters. It was not the same for Bonny though. She did not choose to move from the shelter to a foster house, nor did she understand the grand scheme of the adoption process. In that sense, Bonny might have had a harder time parting with me than I had.
I observed a similar situation when Chris and I visited my parents’ place before flying to Australia. We spent a week with them and their dog Ppomi. My brother James was also visiting so we can have a small family vacation in The Poconos. The day before our departure, James flew back to his home. Ppomi had already sensed the impending separation, probably from James’s packing of luggage. The following morning, Chris and I got into my father’s car to drive to JFK Airport. Mom held Ppomi in her arms and bid farewell. Ppomi looked confused, not knowing where we were going without her.
I made examples of parting with companion animals, but of course, we experience parting with humans more often. We move away or move on. Others move away or move on. When a person moves away, people involved can embrace the parting and continue the relationship. When I moved with Chris to Iowa for his doctorate program, my close friend Heena and I talked often over the phone and grew our friendship further. When Chris got a job in Rhode Island, the same thing happened between my friend Christine and me. Our friendship persevered and strengthened. However, not all relationships survive parting. I have other friends in Iowa that I still think of dearly; however, we don’t talk much because of our distance. As far as I know, there are no hard feelings. Like most things in life, relationships fade over time.
The partings that I struggled with most were when my friends moved on for no apparent reasons. It was involuntary for me (I wanted to stay as friends) and it was not meaningful to me (I did not understand why they decided to part ways). This happened twice since I moved to Rhode Island, and both times with a friend named Sarah. I reached out a few more times via text to no avail. They disappeared out of my life, like a puff of air. These unwanted partings, one after the next, hurt my feelings enough that the next time I had a chance to befriend a different Sarah at my painting class, I had qualms. Would she suddenly disappear as well? Jokingly I named my condition Sarah Syndrome. I knew the partings had nothing to do with people's names; nevertheless, they left me lasting association with the name Sarah.
I would like to share one parting that I had looked forward to most in my life: one with my maternal grandmother. After she was taken into an intensive care unit for three weeks after a suicide attempt, she was moved to an assisted living facility for the elderly. Her body had weakened so much that she could not walk anymore. She could not do much of anything by herself. She spent most of her days on her bed alongside her fellow residents. When I got a rare chance to video-conference with her, I could barely hear her. She had little strength left to project her voice. One thing she repeatedly said was that she was hurting. She had several kinds of bodily aches, let alone all the psychological pains from her suicide attempts and the separation from her family due to the pandemic. She lasted three years in that place until she passed away in 2022. I did not believe in god, but every day of those three years, I prayed for her death. I wanted her to rest in peace as soon as possible. It would have been a voluntary and meaningful parting, considering her earlier wish to end her life.
You can see more photos and videos of Bonny on my Instagram @KoreanLinda.
More on grieving over my grandmother: