The Art of Coping with Goodbyes
With tear-soaked eyes you watch as the sedan pulls away, slowly picking up speed as it drives down the lane all while leaving a faint trail of exhaust behind. With every last bit of your being, you raise your arm to wave goodbye. It seems heavy though, different than usual, and every second of your wave feels like an eternity. You want nothing more than to avoid this situation, yet at the same time you feel obligated to be there to witness its finality. You take in every last fraction of a second to hold on to the person, wishing for them to stay, even if only for a short time longer. Wanting one more kiss, one more embrace, one more something. Within moments though, the car is out of sight. The aching feeling of not being able to touch them rips at your core and leaves you feeling damaged. You are not broken though. You are very much whole and you are stronger for the experience although it may not seem like it in the moment.
Saying Goodbye is Never Easy
The process of saying goodbye is never easy. No one really volunteers to take on this task. Watching a cherished friend or beloved family member leave for an undetermined amount of time or possibly forever is tough. Very tough. It tugs at your heart leaving a heavy pain where love once held so strong. It rips at the essence of who we are as social beings and leaves us feeling overwhelmed, isolated, and alone. The trouble is that goodbyes are just as frequent as hellos and as a result, an inevitable part of our daily lives.
For example, we change jobs and leave behind co-workers who have greeted us each workday with a smile or a high five. We move to a new area of town and leave behind neighbors who are more like family as a result of block parties, game nights, and shared meals. We change schools or churches, or lose a loved one to cancer. No matter what the situation, goodbyes are never easy.
With a Goodbye, Remember the Positives
However, it is with these goodbyes that we remember the significant place that a person holds in our hearts. We come to appreciate the special things that they did for us and experience gratitude for the time that we were together. We value the influence that they had on our lives and discover that we have the responsibility to carry on the legacy they started. It’s a big task to take on, but keeping their spirit alive will help you cope with the grief of their departure.
Some families go through goodbyes frequently. Such is the case as a foster-parent when you regularly take in children, knowing that in the end each new hello is almost certainly a painful goodbye. Others often look at you in this role and ask, how can you do this? How do you take on a child that you know will leave you? How do you prepare your heart for their parting? Simply because love triumphs over pain and will continue to triumph over pain time and time again.
Tips for Coping with Losing a Loved One
For those of you who may be struggling, here are some ways to help.
- Honor the person. Put out that photograph of the two of you that you love so much and save those heart filled notes that brought a smile to your face as you read them. These little reminders will allow you keep the thought of this person alive in your heart and mind.
- Talk about them. The loss of someone, whether temporary or permanent, should not be a taboo topic. They were an important part of your life for a period of time. Their memory is priceless and deserving of remembrance. Besides, others too are sharing that same grief and creating a sense of community may provide you with the support necessary to move on.
- Open your heart to new people. Although a friend or family member may exit your life, does not mean that you cannot welcome someone else. Your loved ones would want this for you and you do not need to fell guilty for letting this happen. They would want you to be happy and you are deserving of finding joy once again through new relationships. Or, speak with a therapist to help.
- Participate in the person’s favorites activities. Listen to his favorite music, watch her favorite movie, or make a favorite dinner to enjoy. Anything that will keep those fond memories alive and well.
- Plant a tree or some other memorial to them. Watching something grow and knowing that it will be around for generations when your loved one could not, may provide a sense of permanency in an otherwise transient world.
- Create a keepsake. Make a pillow, blanket, or stuffed animal made from the person’s old clothing. Having the ability to embrace something familiar when nothing else in the world seems the same may be beneficial.
- Try journaling. Putting your thoughts and words done on paper may allow you to move past the difficult times and allow you to move on to new memories and traditions.
Just know that with every goodbye, your heart will break a bit. With time though it will find a way to fit back together. It just takes a while as the pieces that are broken have to come together differently than before. The journey to healing after a goodbye is hard. It takes time and perseverance and a whole lot of love. You can do this. You got it. And if you need help with the process, know that there are caring professionals who are willing to step up and help you with the journey. Remember, you are not alone in pain of goodbyes and you never will be. We are right there with you for the voyage.
Tracy Glantz, MS, is an Educational Therapist at CHI Health.