The Complicated Feelings of Saying Goodbye

shira saying goodbye featured

Since our lift left a few weeks ago, we have very little furniture left in our apartment. A few beds and some borrowed folding chairs are scattered in various rooms. Consequently, now that my desk, couch, and dining room set are gone, the only place I have left to sit – is my bed.

So lately, I have spent most of my time in bed. My work is labor-intensive and requires a lot of computer time. With the lift gone and the intensity of that aliyah chapter calmed down, I was able to double down and focus. But as the days ticked on, the stillness morphed into silence, which weighed heavy liked depression. It pricked at me like anxiety.

By the other day, I was a mess. Emotional, carrying pain I couldn’t locate. I felt blocked up – like my energy was frozen. I was unable to access feelings of joy.

See, before this week’s long stint of “working in bed,” there were many weeks during which I was a prisoner in the same exact spot. Chronic illness relegated me to being bedbound, stole my zest for life and my capacity to live it. I won’t pretend that, though I have come far on my recovery journey, I don’t carry complicated feelings about this bed, in this room.

When a friend asked me last week how I felt about moving, I casually responded that I felt great. Sure there would be some people I would miss. Of course, I would regret losing the convenience and ease of all that suburban New Jersey offers. But the truth was that I had been clamoring to move on. From the minute I took my first steps out of bed, the only place I wanted to go was – away. The place where I live holds so many memories for me. I birthed and raised my children here. I made beautiful relationships and lost others. But it also was the place where I was sick. Where I felt isolated and desolate. Where I envisioned my young family living without me, after I was gone.

In this moving process, it seems like I’ve put up a wall. Up until now, I have refused to engage with any negative feelings about leaving. It was easier to focus on the relief of leaving a space that carries painful memories. It was “healthier” to focus on building a new life, somewhere where I would get a second chance to live the way that I wanted to. To focus on the fact that I was fulfilling a dream I never thought could be a reality for me. I never intended to erase all the pain that happened here – but perhaps I never intended to take it with me, either.

The thing that I forgot, was that here I was not only sick. Here I also healed. I pulled myself out of this bed day after day, even if I was exhausted, and forced myself back to living again. I took chances. I faced my fears. I opened myself back up to friendships. I tested my own maladaptive defensives. I freed myself from living a half-life.

This place changed from being a cage to a weigh station. The front door was in full use. I came and I went. When I returned, this was a place of comfort. A nest, to rest my weary body and wake up refreshed. This was a place where I dreamed and actualized those dreams. I was inspired here – and inspired others from this spot. This became a home, that would be hard to leave.

Living in denial of the good, because the bad is too painful to keep, doesn’t work. The recovery process was so difficult. I struggled every minute of every day. But that suffering solidified the version of me that I have learned to love and embrace. Whatever perspective I have to offer to the women I profile, or to my readers, is hard won. Formulated through the rigors of engaging with all sorts of emotional and physical pain. I am a drastically different person now than I was before I moved here. Here I was reborn and grown. All these new parts were cultivated in this space, and I owe it gratitude for that shelter. For the privacy I needed to shed what hurt me, and the silence to do it in peace. This place is now in my DNA, in the fabric of my newness.

When one packs up to go, one needs to choose what to keep and what to leave behind. Much of the misery, I choose to leave. But there will be some select parts of that pain that I will bring with me to remind me where I come from. I will also bring this fresh sense of gratitude for this place that incubated my new life. I will allow myself to feel this unseasoned feeling of sadness for leaving this complicated address.

Allowing myself that, surely makes it harder to say goodbye.

So maybe I’m not ok. I’ve ignored this for far too long. The euphoria of aliyah has a fine print. It doesn’t erase complicated feelings. If I allow this chapter to end without wrestling honestly with residual hurt, it will follow me to my new life. I’ve learned the hard way, that engaging with the tough stuff is the only way to move on. For me, the only option to live fully, is to feel fully.


Shira Lankin Sheps grew up in New Jersey and went to Stern College for women. After graduating from Hunter College School of Social Work with her MSW in clinical social work, she worked in the clinical field, in marketing and photojournalism.

She decided to start The Layers Project to help break down stigma and promote healing within our Jewish community.

She feels strongly about presenting women, who are so often shown as shallow characters or fully removed from Jewish media spaces, as three-dimensional individuals whose lives are full and rich with resilience.

Shira made aliyah with her family two years ago to Jerusalem.

Headshot taken by Tzipora Lifchitz.