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“Group hug!” she yells as we put arms filled with tote bags and purses and papers and backpacks around each other. We squeeze, the three of us together, and shake each other until we almost lose our collective balance. Mommy kisses Daddy. Miriam kisses Daddy. Mommy kisses Miriam. And we start out of our apartment, down the stairs.

The struggle of the morning is filled with cookie bribery, half-drunk cups of coffee, coloring projects started with no time to finish, socks that don’t match, and pants that don’t fit. But as it all falls into place, we always meet in the living room for the group hug.

I don’t remember how the group hug started, but I do remember the one time that I left for the day without saying goodbye. We were a newly-engaged couple. Living together in that excitement of finally finding the winner in the dating game, every “hello” and “goodbye” was intense and amazing. One morning, with Hal still sleeping, I silently left for work. I thought not waking him was more important than saying “goodbye” and “have a nice day” and “I love you.” There’s always later, right?

My phone rang about 20 minutes later. We promised each other would we never leave without saying goodbye ever again.

I’ve always had a problem with executing a good goodbye. I hid in the bathroom of my dorm at the end of my freshman year to avoid saying goodbye for the summer to all the friends I’d made. I was afraid of the emotion of it all. What to say. What not to say. I’d rather just disappear and reappear. The energy of the goodbye just didn’t make sense to me. Or it scared me. I’m not sure which.

I’ve had two big goodbyes in my life. The death of my mother and the death of my son. Of course, there were boyfriend breakups and visits with long-distance friends that had to come to an end. They felt big at the time but a goodbye for death is different. A goodbye for death is final. No doubt about it. I’ve actually become pretty good at those goodbyes. They are definite and certain.

It’s the uncertainty that’s the foundation for our group hug. The uncertainty of the day. Of the hour. Of the minute. That group hug is the ritual that starts our family’s day, because no matter how the day plays out, we will always have that “good goodbye” until we’re all together again.

In the early days of daycare, then preschool, and now pre-k, a good goodbye was of the utmost importance. My husband and I would text each other after asking, “How did the drop go?” Like it was a dangerous military mission. There is no worse way for a parent to start their day than leaving a crying child. The teachers will tell you, “It’s better to make drop-off quick” and “She’ll be fine as soon as you leave.” While I know they’re right, I refuse to leave a crying child.

Having had our lives changed suddenly with the death of our son in a swimming pool accident, we know firsthand what it’s like to obsess on the last words spoken or the last sight of someone you love. I still see Noah’s face looking up at me from the rug with his box of raisins. I still see my mother doing that funny wave she had, just moving her fingers, as she was wheeled to the surgery she never woke up from. The group hug is our way of saying, ”Just in case it’s our last time.”

I asked some of my friends about their rituals. Here are a few:

“‘Love you’ and kisses, every time someone walks out the door, even if you’re mad. Because sometimes people don’t come back. Last words and all that. It’s pretty funny just how angry you can yell, ‘I LOVE YOU TOO’ over a slamming door.” -MyLove M. Barnett

“When I drop the boys at school, I tell them to ‘make it a great day’ to remind them that they have the power.”-Elana Cook Korn

“My son, Grant, feared me never coming home when I had my heart surgery. Now at bedtime he’ll say, ‘See you in the morning’ and I’ll reply, ‘Yes you will!’ He then looks at me and smiles. Also, on their way to school I always tell them to make a friend. My ritual with my wife is begging her for sex. Not as she’s leaving for work or before bed. I ask all the time. So I guess that’s not a ritual. More like a nuisance.”-David Ely

“‘Safe travels. Love you. Make good choices.’ The first: my husband travels a lot for work. He used to fly from Newark to LAX the 2nd Tues of every month, but not 9/11, because it was my first day at a new job and our son had his yearly wellness check (his birthday is one day later). He worked across the street from WTC, but not on 9/11 for same reason. Years ago, we lived on the outskirts of the city where the 3rd plane crashed on 9/11 — back at a time when he was a paramedic, and had been tasked to help identify body parts after plane crashes. So, ‘safe travels’ has earned superstition status in our home at this point: I’m afraid if I don’t say it, something terrible will happen. 2. ‘Love you’: refer to #1. 3. ‘Make good choices’ started off as a joke, until our son became a teenager. Now I find myself saying it multiple times in one goodbye.”-Hayley Cagan Kamis

“My husband has our boys say, ‘I’m going to be great today!'”-Adena Meier Weisholtz

“When Jack gets out of the car, since kindergarten, whoever drops him off says ‘Make good choices. Be a leader.’”- Heather Finneran Vazquez

Fears and superstitions. Humor and inside jokes. Encouragement, protection, and love. So much goes into a good goodbye.

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