Much has been written and sung of goodbyes. I recently said goodbye to a city and life that I once loved in Chicago. More than 20 years of accumulated life was consolidated into a moving truck and sent down the road. I followed.
In the beginning, when this all came about, I avoided the goodbyes. If I didn’t say goodbye, maybe I could avoid strong feelings of loss. I fantasized that I would just send out a quick email, make a few phone calls, and be on my way.
Then my best friend confronted me, saying, “You aren’t going to just try and slip away are you?” Yes, maybe I was. (But then I didn’t.)
So the goodbyes began, along with stories, hugs, laughs, gifts, and mixed emotions measured in tears at sometimes inopportune times.
Saying goodbye is important. Saying goodbye allows us time to honor the importance that we have in each other’s lives. It gives us the opportunity to form words for feelings that we might be recognizing for the very first time. A good goodbye honors our past, codifies the choices we made, recognizes life experiences with others and the world around us, and provides closure, as we move on to our next chapter.
However, when life comes at us such that we do not get a chance to say goodbye, or we are not ready to say goodbye, we can be left wondering forever what was, what happened, and what could have been. Sudden separation from whatever it is, be it person, place or thing, can leave a hole filled with heavy difficult feelings, such as regret, guilt, anger, confusion, and fear. We may never fully resolve the separation, and we may even be in a state of denial for a time, but we can determine to move forward.
Saying Goodbye When You Don’t Get to Say Goodbye
… or when you’re not ready to say goodbye
- Have faith and trust that you will be guided to where you need to be. Your next chapter may not become clear right away, but in time you will make your way.
- Show grace in the face of difficult circumstances. You cannot control the actions of other people. You can control your own.
- Review your situation objectively and use reason, not emotion, to make decisions. Find help in trusted resources, such as your clergy, a counselor or social worker, or a support group.
- Cry and let out the emotions. Visualize them leaving your body and your mind. Your heart may be forever changed and there may still be a place for what has been lost, but put it into perspective in the grand scheme of your life. Honor what should be honored, acknowledge the rest.
- Forgive — yourself and/or them. Harboring hard feelings eats away at the person holding onto them.
- Write a letter. Used sometimes in therapy, a letter creates an external context (versus a perpetual internal focus) of a situation. A personal letter like this can be put away or stuffed in a bottle and thrown in the ocean — the point is that you put your feelings and memories into words externally, to help you move forward.
- Don’t sit still, just thinking about it. Busy yourself with a manageable project you can achieve and feel good about. You never know where it could lead.
On the way to my next chapter, I looked for a sign — it was a palm tree. At that point, I felt more at ease, and suddenly I saw palm trees in a whole new light. Now on to the next chapter.
Cherilynn Veland is author of Stop Giving It Away, a self-advocacy book for women. Stop Giving It Away is the product of 20+ years of social work and counseling individuals and couples. Cherilynn also blogs about home, work, life and love at www.stopgivingitaway.com.