5/9/2023 | By Donna Brody

Life’s transitions usually come with the pain of a goodbye. By learning to say goodbye, we can temper the pain and shine a brighter light on the experience. These four tips can help.

Is there ever a good time or a good way to say goodbye?

Our lives are made up of physical and emotional connections, but sometimes circumstances dictate changes. We finish school, change jobs, and retire; we sell a beloved home and leave a familiar neighborhood to downsize or move closer to grown children or into a retirement community; we send our kids and then grandkids off to college; we even watch our favorite television shows end for good. The result of such goodbyes is often overwhelming sadness.

When my husband and I decided many years ago to move our family 800 miles away for a better employment opportunity, saying goodbye to our family and friends was heart-wrenching. I can still remember how it felt to lock the door to our house for the last time and all of the tears (at least from me and the four kids) as we pulled away to drive to our new home and begin this new chapter. Years later, I know it was a good decision and my children have only vague memories of their earlier life in a different place, but if I think about it hard enough, I can return to that day and vividly recall the devastating feelings of loss.

Years later, when I worked for a brief time at a residential college, I had to watch parents and children say goodbye each year on freshman move-in day. Tears were flowing everywhere I looked, and it made me relive my own experience of saying goodbye to my children on their college campuses and returning to a quiet house.

What is it about these experiences that stick with us?

For most people, goodbyes release real apprehension about change. Writer and artist Richard Collison describes the change that follows a goodbye this way. “We feel so much because a part of ourselves is being left behind as well. We make our own identity from all the things in our lives,” he says. “The people, the job, our possessions, and our beliefs. It’s all part of the web that makes up who are. We want to cling to what we feel is important, yet we also want to let go.”

Sad woman looking out of a window. Image by Ivonne Wierink. For article on how to say goodbye.

Psychologist Peggy Rios agrees. “Goodbyes are something we’ll all have to face sooner or later,” she says, “but that doesn’t really make it easier. Whatever you’re going through, know that you’re not alone.”

Grief counselor Isabel Stenzel Byrnes says she and her twin sister, Anabel, spent years practicing how to say goodbye. The sisters were born with the progressive disease cystic fibrosis and knew from an early age they had a reduced life expectancy. Byrnes says although they shared a passion for life, they knew in reality that their time could be limited and that one would die first.

After losing her sister in 2013, Byrnes now uses her work to “help others with the hardships that can come with saying goodbye to loved ones for good.” Her tips, though, can also help others “thoughtfully” say goodbye any time, even if it isn’t a final farewell. Rios has a few tips of her own.

1. Recognize the role

The first tip is to acknowledge the role the person plays in your life. Whether a good neighbor or a close colleague, Byrnes says it is important to tell the person out loud just how much they impacted you and to thank them for being in your life. Rios says to be as specific as possible when giving examples like, “Remember the time …”

2. Embrace then let go of your emotions

You might be experiencing really intense emotions, Byrnes says, so you should allow those feelings to come. But you must also know when to let go of them. Over time, you must work to remember the person (or place or job) with more love than pain. Rios says to give yourself time to cry or be angry; then do something constructive with the feelings. Fill your time with things you enjoy like reading or running.

3. Practice goodbye rituals

It’s not always possible to say goodbye in person. In that case, both Byrnes and Rios suggest using farewell rituals like writing a letter, lighting a candle, or spending an afternoon on the beach remembering the person and your time together.

4. Remember that saying goodbye well takes practice.

An intimate conversation like saying farewell can be very awkward, Byrnes says. “Doing it anyway helps us grow as human beings.” If you know you will soon have to say goodbye, Rios recommends trying to build some new, positive memories with the person first.

Whether the goodbye is temporary or forever, consider the words of skier Jill Kinmont in the 1975 biographical film “The Other Side of the Mountain.” Kinmont’s fiancé, Dick Buek, is killed, following what they thought was a temporary farewell. “I try not to let it, but sometimes it all plays back in my mind, and when it does, I remember the words that Dick Buek said to me the last time I saw him: ‘How lucky I am to have found someone and something that saying goodbye to is so damned awful.’”

Donna Brody

Donna Brody is a former community college English instructor who retired to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She enjoys freelance writing and has self published three romance novels. Besides writing and traveling with her husband, she keeps busy visiting her seven grandchildren.

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