The Art of Goodbye
If never mastered, you stumble
Through transitions, losing your
Heart in places you never meant,
Or tearing another’s out as you walk
Away before you’ve detached.
Despite how much I love to write poetry, this may be the second time that I have ever posted it (also, first time in a year I’ve had time to write it so…).
I’m thinking about the importance of goodbye a lot right now. My semester is ending, bringing two of three years to a close for grad school. My internship is ending, and with it all of the relationships with people I’ve worked with.
It hurts to be losing so many connections all at once, but it’s also given me a chance to really immerse myself in my own philosophy of closure.
I haven’t had many good goodbyes in my life, but a handful have stood out to me. The first being my goodbye with my first ever counselor. She was an intern at my college counseling center, and the first person who had validated the pain I had gone through. When I found out that after graduation I would have to find another counselor to work with, I was devastated.
But she took it as an opportunity to give me something I’d never had before. Closure and parting “when people are still on good terms.”
She didn’t just see me on our last scheduled session, pat me on the back and say, “good luck.” She took time to memorialize what we were losing and express appreciation for what I had brought into the relationship with me.
That stuck. To this day, I look back at that as one of the most powerful pieces of the work I did with her.
As I’ve been in grad school, I’ve noticed that some teachers will keep teaching right up until the last moment before they let you go, yelling “have a good break!” as students file out the door. Others will dedicate half or entire class periods to goodbyes with rituals, crafts, or gifts to students, encouraging students to share with each other what they valued about the others in class.
It’s always more fulfilling to leave the latter classes. There’s a kind of balm on the separation wound and usually something meaningful to take home.
I’m convinced that goodbye is one of the most important skills we can master, and one of the skills that few ever try to master.
Our first encounters with goodbyes are often nearly traumatic, the sudden loss of a relationship—due to death, argument, or life circumstances.
Or we first learn that goodbye means fading out or ghosting.
Goodbyes tend to toggle between the sudden eruption and the slow, unclear disappearance.
We’re left to walk around with these throbbing, straggling attachments that we don’t quite know how to heal, and when we enter into new relationships, those wounds haunt our attempts to connect anew.
What I have learned from good goodbyes is that even when the goodbye is welcome—as with the ending of a class, leaving a job, graduating from school, etc.—the goodbye still marks a loss that needs to be honored. Taking time to say goodbye gives us a chance to acknowledge the grief, honor what that relationship meant, and express clear reasons why it can no longer continue (especially important with breakups).
It allows us to cleanly sever the attachment cords and bandage them up so that they can heal.
Granted, intentional goodbyes are not always possible. Sometimes, that sudden rupture is necessary or inevitable. Sometimes the fade out is appropriate (rarely, but sometimes). But I, for one, have committed myself to making sure I take every opportunity I see to give those with whom I’m parting the good goodbyes that have been given to me.