Not quite a month ago, we moved out of our house of two years. Before that, we lived in a rental for our first year in Central Oregon, to get a feel for where we’d like to live.
Before that, we lived in Austin for a year, our “waiting room” year after Turkey to decide what was next. And before that, we lived in Turkey for three years.
Our family has had its fair share of goodbyes. They’re one of my least favorite things in the entire world.
If it were up to me—an immature version of me—I wouldn’t even bother saying goodbye. I’d just say “See ya” if I thought that might be the last time I saw someone, then sneak out in the dead of night and move on to the next thing. I’m still tempted to, in fact, every time we transition to something else. I’m not a touchy-feely person by nature, and everyone’s always wanting to hug or say nice things, and I’m standing there all awkward, wondering what I should say or do next.
But even if I weren’t the Miss Awkward INTJ that I am, I’d still struggle with goodbyes. Goodbyes force us to recognize a change in our path, an acknowledgment that we’re choosing (or sometimes being forced) to move away from one thing and plow in to the next.
The very reason goodbyes are hard is the reason we actually need to do them well: because we’re leaving something, and if we don’t fully leave it, we can’t be fully present in the next thing.
Sure, it might feel like we can avoid the pain of goodbye—New Things are usually adventurous, and the pain of leaving can be band-aided up from the adrenaline rush. But it doesn’t last. Eventually, not saying goodbye well will catch up.
When we left Turkey, we went to a week-long debriefing workshop, created specifically for expat families transitioning back to their home cultures. We discussed things like reverse culture shock, helping our kids adjust to a new-to-them culture, and symptoms of stress and burnout, but everything always pointed back to saying goodbye well.
If we didn’t properly and thoroughly say farewell, everything was exacerbated—stress, culture shock, depression, confusion…. All of it.
Here’s what that workshop taught us about saying goodbye well.
1. Don’t rush your goodbyes.
Yep, it’s tempting to get them over with, like ripping off a bandaid. Don’t. Give yourself time to give a final farewell to the people and places that matter most to you. We’ve found it necessary to start the goodbye process about a full month before leaving.
2. See goodbyes as both a one-time thing and a continual process.
You’ll officially say goodbye to someone once. But you’ll continually say goodbye to them emotionally and mentally as well—sure, they’ll stay in your life, but it’ll be different, and you’ll experience those differences off and on throughout your New Thing.
3. Use objects as special memory bonds.
You know I’m not a fan of clutter, nor of associating relationships with things (you can still love Aunt Petunia and give away that tchotchke she gave you). But sometimes an ebenezer is helpful—a small item that symbolizes an important moment in your life. A rock, a photo, a piece of art, whatever… so long as you don’t overdo it, these things are significant, and they matter. They’re a tangible way to allow that special phase in life to stay with you.
4. Choose a proper setting for your goodbyes.
If you’re really going to miss your closest friend, don’t wait to say bye to her at a busy going-away party. Save that special farewell for a one-on-one coffee date.
5. Pinpoint what, exactly, you’ll miss.
This one can take you by surprise—sometimes it’s not the sweet potato fries at that restaurant, it’s really the tradition of a monthly happy hour sharing drinks and those fries with your group of friends. Or maybe it’s not so much the neighborhood you’ll miss, it’s the convenience of living near grandparents. Being specific helps you know what, exactly, you’re saying goodbye to.
6. Don’t be embarrassed that you’re sad. But don’t let yourself stay there forever.
Allow yourself to be sad. We tell our kids this one all the time—don’t feel weird that you’re sad to say goodbye to your bedroom, even though it’s essentially four walls and a door. It’s totally legit, and to brush it off as needless will only cause more pain down the road. So give yourself permission to be sad. But then give yourself permission to eventually no longer be sad.
Remind yourself of the better things ahead, of the goodness your New Thing allows. Do what you need to do to get over it, in the best of ways.
7. Don’t forget to say goodbye to places and things, too.
Saying goodbye to people is obvious. But it’s important to say goodbye to favorite parks, restaurants, streets, and stores as well. It’s even okay to need to say goodbye to the ridiculous, like a particular street sign you’ve always admired, or a coffee drink at your favorite cafe.
In our nomadic modern world, we all will have some versions of goodbye in our life—as I mentioned in At Home in the World, 6 out of 10 adults move to a new community at least once in their lives.
It’s best to embrace goodbyes for both good and bad, to dive deep in to them, and accept them as part of being human. Let them serve as goodness in your life, so you can walk out on the other side more mature, whole, and loving. Saying goodbye well helps us fully say hello to the New Thing.