Long Goodbyes

It takes place in the parking lot, before everyone parts ways. It’s called the Goodbye Ceremony.

A beach bar. My wife and I are with our cousins, James and Jessica. We are eating pizza. Somebody got a little crazy and even ordered oysters.

You know what my favorite part of any family gathering is? Not oysters or pizza. The part at the end. It takes place in the parking lot, before everyone parts ways. It’s called the Goodbye Ceremony.

In this part of the world, the simple act of saying goodbye can last for three hours. Sometimes longer if it’s football season.

James and Jessica are cool cousins. I once rode out a hurricane with James. I’ll never forget it. Hurricane Ivan was tearing through Brewton, Alabama. The rest of the family was downstairs, listening to a radio by candlelight.

James and I were upstairs, the ultimate thrill seekers, watching the storm. But we couldn’t see anything because it was too dark.

So our entire conversation basically went like this:

“Did you hear that?”


“What about that?”


When the storm hit, we heard creaking and groaning. It sounded like the core of the planet was getting ripped from the soil and hurling through outer space somewhere above the casino in Atmore.

The next morning, the town had lost so many trees you couldn’t drive down Belleville Avenue. The power was out. It was tragic.

But Brewton’s families banded together. You could see people on porches, cooking food on gas grills, drinking beer at noon.

Because that’s what family does.

Family is important to me. It becomes even more important the older I get. I didn’t grow up with much. And at this age I have to sort of create my own, which isn’t easy because I have no kids.

This is tough sometimes because I really like kids. I like them so much that every child I meet—I know this is going to seem odd—I call “cousin.” I figure, why not?

Last week, for instance, I worked in the nursery at a Methodist church. They let me hold as many babies as I wanted. I spent most of the service bouncing a baby named Cousin Tray.

I couldn’t let him go. Cousin Tray had the fattest little hands I’ve ever seen.

Before I gave Cousin Tray back to his mother, I told him to call me if he ever needed anything, since, you know, we’re family.

Cousin Tray agreed. Then he gave me a high-five to seal the deal.

Speaking of cousins, this past Fourth of July I found new biological cousins from my father’s side. I had never met them before—at least I don’t remember meeting them. You might have thought we would have acted like strangers, but no.

When we said goodbye, we all stood by the door for nearly an hour conducting a proper Goodbye Ceremony according to protocol. It was the best part of the evening.

There is something about standing by the front door and getting ready to leave that inspires the storyteller in everyone.

Goodbyes with my sister’s family can last well through the night until “Live with Kelly and Ryan” finally comes on TV and various roosters start crowing in the distance.

My sister has two babies. I can never seem to let them go. I could hold them all day. I call them “Cousin Lily” and “Cousin Lucy.”

At the door, I like to fix their hair and kiss their fat cheeks and pinch their noses. I remind Cousin Lucy not to forget about me. I make a raspberry on Cousin Lily’s bare white tummy.

But most of all, I like to stand in the entryway, talking. To the untrained eye, it looks as though we’re saying goodbye. But we aren’t. Family doesn’t say goodbye. Not ever. In fact, we are telling each other the opposite.

We are saying: “Even though we’ll be apart, nothing can keep us apart for long. Because we’re family.”

Right now, my wife and cousins are leaving the beach bar. We have finally finished our pizza and oysters. We tip our waitress, we walk outside. The stars are out by the billions tonight. James and I are hugging in the parking lot. Jessica is hugging my wife.

Initializing official Goodbye Ceremony in five, four, three, two…

“We’re so glad we got to see you tonight.”

“Us too, we’ll have to do this again.”

“We really do.”

“It was fun.”

“It really was.”

“That pizza sucked.”

“Mine was actually okay.”

“Hey, remember that time when Hurricane Ivan came through Brewton?”

“Do I?”

“What a night, huh?”

“How many years ago was that?”

“Fourteen, fifteen.”

“At least fifteen.”

“God, has it been that long?”

“I think so.”

“Fifteen years ago, are we getting old?”

“No, it’s just you. You’re getting old.”

“Gimme one more hug.”

“One more.”

“See y’all.”

“Y’all too.”

“Drive safe, now.”

“Same to you.”

“You sure it was fifteen years ago?”

“Pretty sure.”

“Hey, is that gray in your beard?”

“No, it’s parmesan.”

“Fifteen years?”

“I gotta get up early tomorrow.”

“Okay, for real this time, bye y’all.”

“Bye guys.”

“Drive safe.”

“We will.”

“Let’s do this again.”

“For sure.”

“Night guys.”


“Love you.”

Forever and a day, and then some more.

Look me up one day, Cousin Tray.


  1. Lucretia - July 19, 2019 9:38 am

    Thank you Sean for reminding me it is the little things we do out of tradition that makes us “The South”. I am thankful that I was born and reared in the land of long goodbyes. Families are forever.

  2. Connie Havard Ryland - July 19, 2019 10:12 am

    I think it’s a Southern thing. Thanks for the smile this morning. Every word was true. I love those long goodbyes when my family is together. It takes an hour to leave. I love that. And I love babies. I want to hold them all. I want to be aunt or grandma, or even mom to all kids, even if they are not related. I just want to imprint on them that somebody loves them. That they have a safe haven if they ever need one. And I love friends that become family. So if you want to be part of a huge, crazy family, you can be part of mine anytime. Love and hugs.

  3. Meredith Smith - July 19, 2019 10:41 am

    Sean, I know the feeling about long goodbyes, since my entire family is across the country and it’s just my husband and I (yup no kids either) here in Md). When I do see my family the goodbyes are achingly long.
    But let me move onto the storms. My family is in Wisconsin, where I hail from. Your comments about being upstairs watching the weather assaults rang so true!! In Wisconsin we had lots of tornadoes and fools like my cousins and I were notorious for going upstairs to watch for the approaching strike, hoping to catch a look and hoping it missed our house. Oh the Insanity of youth. We saw many a tornado. But love bound us together even in the scariest of times. Now as adults we rarely see one another but when we do, those good-byes are woefully long. Boy do I miss those days.

  4. Marisa Franca - July 19, 2019 11:15 am

    Italians do the same thing — it’s wonderful! No shoving you out the door and slamming the door shut.

  5. cowartj - July 19, 2019 11:58 am

    Funny how traditions work. My family definitely has the long goodbye (i like to call it the “Franco” goodbye after the Spanish leader who was reported to be dying for months). Now that my 95 year old father is on a walker, it’s changed a bit. We once all lined up in facing rows with our hands reaching up and touching as though he was the bridal couple at a military wedding ?

  6. Karen - July 19, 2019 12:13 pm

    My grandfather never would say goodbye. He always said, “Until later…”. ❤️

  7. Joe Patterson - July 19, 2019 12:44 pm

    Thanks again so true

  8. T.C. - July 19, 2019 1:09 pm

    yep, when I was was a youngun’, I hated that “goodbye ceremony”, but now that I’m older, I’m right in there with those long, drawn out, family “goodbyes”
    Maybe , because I’ve learned at my age, saying goodbye, could be really saying a goodbye forever !

  9. JuneGibson - July 19, 2019 1:13 pm

    I love everything you write…and you are without a doubt, the best story teller….ever!

  10. Teresa Tindle - July 19, 2019 1:41 pm

    That is exactly how our goodbyes go. Family forever.

  11. Mary - July 19, 2019 2:12 pm

    You are spot on…AGAIN! Some of my best memories as a kid are Sunday nights after church. Us kids had a blast running around the parking lot and playing while the parentals were “saying goodbye”. It was great!

  12. Bill - July 19, 2019 2:48 pm

    Sean, I married into a family that could say goodbyes forever, when we all knew we would see each other again within a few weeks! I was rather impatient at first, but yielded to the inevitable. As Juliet said “parting is such sweet sorrow…”. It is deep in our DNA. Another Southern tradition. Actually pretty nice.

  13. Linda Moon - July 19, 2019 3:34 pm

    “That’s what family does.” One of my family members said those exact words to me a few days ago. Fifteen years goes by fast. Enjoy those cousins and hold those babies while you can. And love them forever. You might also enjoy the little book, LOVE YOU FOREVER, by Robert Munsch. My family gave this book to my mother when she was 86 years old!

  14. Johnny Coggin - July 19, 2019 4:35 pm

    This is so true. I think our family has perfected the art of the long goodbye! It’s hard to let go when ya love each other!

    • That's jack - July 19, 2019 7:14 pm

      Okay for a couple years me ‘n you have agreed on most every thing. But now you done it. You put that cheater clamp too far down the neck. I don’t mind a long sermons in church but like when the preacher says ‘in closing’ and he continues another 30 minutes I was ready for him to close when he said so.. Just sayin. LOL 😉 I still love you though! :-O

  15. LBJ - July 19, 2019 6:32 pm

    I’m blessed to have a little home on Cape Cod. My parents are my next door neighbors. My grandparents bought that home in the late 30s. My grands make the 5th generation to come to our sweet island. Whenever they leave, they are covered in hugs & smooches from their great-grandparents, grandparents and sometimes aunts & uncles who live nearby.
    A lovely tradition was started by my grandparents, passed along to my parents and now we share it with the younger generations. When someone leaves the island at the end of the season… as a student or the teacher, they drive around for a last look at everything before they head off. As they are doing that, we grab pots, pans & large spoons to “bang them off the island.” When neighbors see us running to the corner the car will pass, they will grab a pot and join us. The shouts of “I love you! Be safe! Have a wonderful year! I love you the most! I love you more! I love you the last number in the universe!! I miss you already!” can be heard from everyone in the car and those of us with our kitchen instruments. The sound of the spoons hitting the pots linger in the air and the hearts of us all.

  16. Susan from Wausau - July 20, 2019 2:59 am

    You are family, and you have created a beautiful, giant family who love you and Jamie and your mother and sister and brother-in-law and ‘cousins ‘, and your father, who was troubled, but loved you all. Wow, that’s the longest run on sentence I’ve ever written! Don’t ever forget, you are loved and appreciated.

  17. Donna - July 20, 2019 5:16 am

    Yep, that is pretty much how it goes. Just experienced this again yesterday when my Mom buried her sister. Good byes at the end of a funeral are even longer. We stood there hugging each other multiple times and I knew it would be a long time until we would ever see some of those cousins again. And with our family, it’s always … call me and let me know you got home safe! You sir, put a SMILE on so many faces every day! And for that, Thank You!!!

  18. Diane - July 22, 2019 12:02 am

    We do all that and then as family and friends leave we say “let us walk you to your car”! Never ending visit, always hard to say goodbye.

  19. Jackie - July 26, 2019 2:59 pm

    Love love this one!! Must be a Baptist thing!


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