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How to say goodbye

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.

moving boxes

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.

Boys walking the bridge

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.

sunset in bend

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.

7 tips for healthy goodbyes

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.

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p.s. – Do you need to cut off your bungee cords?

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  1. Steph

    We’ve said goodbye multiple times in our 11 year marriage and as a fellow INTJ I find this the hardest part of moving. I particularly dislike the awkwardness of saying an official goodbye and then seeing people around town again and wondering if we’re supposed to do a whole big goodbye again or if a simple hug suffices. But I have also found that proper goodbyes mean leaving with peace and without regrets.

    • Tsh

      Yes and amen to the awkward, Steph. 😉

  2. Marla Taviano

    Bless you for this. We’re saying good-bye December 1 to our beautiful refugee friends at our apartment complex and saying good-bye the whole month of December to our family and the rest of our friends. And saying good-bye for good and heading to Cambodia the first week of January. So excited but aching with sadness too.

  3. Amy

    This is so interesting. I tend to want to skip over good-byes completely because I often find them awkward and overly prolonged. I think it depends on the length of separation: are you saying good-bye for an hour, a day, a week, or possibly forever? For example, my sister-in-law just left for college but she’s at a school just three hours away (and this isn’t her first semester). My in-laws had a little farewell party for her, but then she was back home the following weekend for a short visit. It just felt a little over the top to make a big deal about the good-bye when she could return home so easily for weekend visits. So I think the ritual of good-bye is important but also needs to vary in its intensity based on the circumstances (which should be fairly obvious, but sometimes, I guess, it’s not).

    • Tsh

      Totally agree with you, Amy. In this post, I’m referring to long goodbyes, I’d say for at least a year or so…

      • Amy

        Yes, I knew which kind of good-bye you were referring to, but sometimes it seems like the people I say good-bye to don’t understand the difference and they make a big deal out of a good-bye that should really just be very casual.

  4. Jenn

    Great timing! And a great reminder to say Good Bye WELL. We are moving, again. My daughter will have attended 4 schools in 4 different states. (She’s in the 4th grade.) She told me last night that she was excited to move and worried and sad about leaving here all at once. I could only agree with her.

  5. Holly

    We recently said goodbye to our church of several years… It was a sad time, and my oldest teen had a really difficult time that last Sunday there. (Which breaks a mother’s heart.) We had made the decision as a family, and we know this is what God has for us at this point. We have transitioned to a new church, and that seems to be going well.

    I appreciate #2 because our “old church” friends invited us for dinner on Saturday, and it did seem a little odd. I don’t know if I was the only one who felt it, but. . . It is an ongoing process. Thank you for the tips to put the process into words! 🙂 Hope your journeys have been safe and enjoyable thus far!

  6. Anika

    INTJ here, too. Gonna bookmark this post, thanks.

  7. Missy Robinson

    There great wisdom in this post. There are times I have done goodbye well, and times I’ve left it quite “undone,” which still sort of haunts me when my thoughts linger on days past. I was recently with my aunt and uncle who just retired from thirty-five years of work in Asia, the past 18 in Singapore. My aunt described the grief and the torn feeling but also talked about really taking the time to say goodbye – for several months they were very intentional as they prepared for final departure. I hate goodbyes.

  8. SuperErin

    Reading this made me realize that I’m saying goodbye to some dreams. On multiple occasions life hasn’t gone the way I thought it should, and I’m still saying goodbye to those dreams, some many years passed now. But, as in all things, God has worked good into my life even in the midst of sadness. That good is my New Thing. Thanks, Tsh!

  9. Brenda

    I know this is not quite the same, but I am sure you’ll understand that I experience this “goodbye” saying when decluttering. I crave a simpler life, and to that end I am releasing things which are just clogging up my mind and home. It is sometimes as emotional as saying goodbye to a friend – yet I know I DO need to say goodbye! This blog entry was helpful with that too! 🙂

  10. Alyson

    We’re working up to saying goodbye to London again. Something we last did 7 years ago when we emigrated to Australia. The boys were 1 and 3 then, now they’re 8 and 10. It will be harder, for us and them, we love this city, it’s where our heart is and we know that for sure, now. Unfortunately we can’t live the life we need to live to get by in London, we never see my husband, so we’re back on the road, happily, but with a tiny touch of longing for London.

  11. Laurin

    I can’t believe how emotional your photos in this post made me! We moved to Tennessee from Washington State a year ago. Seriously…..tears. I wish I’d read this BEFORE I left. Just recently I’ve allowed myself to remember all of those sweet memories of our home…..every nook and cranny.

    I have so looked forward to following you guys on this journey! Excited for you!

  12. Elizabeth @ Coppertop Kitchen

    When I graduated from college, I got a job that necessitated my moving away from my beloved Ann Arbor a full three months before I had planned to. I did not have time to properly say goodbye, and wasted some time in trying to cram in a bunch of silly “bucket list”-type items. I cried as I drove past a long row of flowering trees on the road out of town, and it wasn’t until I got my first cold in Chicago that I realized how much I missed this specific ginger-lemon tea drink that had gotten me through all the illnesses of the past three years, but could only be bought at the little coffeeshop where I worked, which only exists in Southeast Michigan. I’ve gotten pretty good at making it myself after more than seven years of trying, but sometimes it would be so so good to just walk in there in my pajamas and order a giant cup of it.

  13. Jennifer

    Right now I am saying goodbye to the newborn days of (most likely) our last baby. The first box of outgrown clothes is full. The bassinet is listed for sale. The maternity clothes are soon to be sold too. It’s hard to think about not being in this stage again, but it is reminding me to be more present, and not wish for the next stage to come sooner.

  14. Sara

    Great post! It has taken me time to work through the emotions of our last move. I pinned this for future reference!

  15. Archer

    Tsh! This post was amazing and the timing was perfect. I am saying some good byes now and it is not easy. Your words spoke deep to my heart and I will need to spend some time reflecting on its applications. What exactly will I miss? What exactly do I need to say good bye to?

    My current commute to work is 1 hour in the mornings, today it was 1 hour and 25 minutes. I decided to switch to work at a clinic closer to home. The new clinic is 15 minutes from my house (all for a better quality of life, a simpler life). It is not an easy thing to leave a clinic, lots of business stuff involved where you aren’t really allowed to contact patients to tell them you are going. So legally you don’t really get to say a real goodbye to them.

    This was all to simplify my life, but it is so difficult saying goodbye to my current clinic. The lovely people I work with, all my patients I’ve developed relationships with over the year (esp those I can not say good bye to), and a thriving, full practice. I am leaving a practice that would be considered every ND’s dream to have, my schedule is always booked. And I’m saying good bye to that! I’m giving up a dream practice for a simpler life, and the pain stings.

    I especially liked this part that you wrote, “if we don’t fully leave it, we can’t be fully present in the next thing”. So true. I’m resisting letting go, but I think writing out exactly what I will miss and exactly what I’m letting go of will help significantly.

    Thanks, Tsh. Maybe I should submit a “simplifying life” story to you (not sure if you are still doing that)!

    • Sarah Westphal

      Please do! I would love to hear of your journey 🙂

  16. Alissa

    “…if we don’t fully leave it, we can’t be fully present in the next thing…”
    Thanks for this post. I remember asking you about saying good-bye a few years back. Our big move is now nearly 3 years behind us, but the season of goodbye still hangs heavy sometimes. As an extrovert, a critical step for me was holding a “house cooling party” open house. Sure, we still had weeks of packing and other opportunities for heartfelt goodbyes, but having an afternoon set aside to say goodbye really helped get my head into the transition period.

    And, I love the idea of an artifact. My girlfriends made a a yearbook of sorts, with notes and pictures from our times together. There is no way that is EVER leaving my possession!

    • Amanda Kendle

      This is brilliant Tsh and even though I’ve written about reverse culture shock a dozen times on my travel blog (my experiences and fellow travellers’) it’s never occurred to me (or them) how important the goodbyes are. But you’re absolutely right and the memories of the goodbyes in the various foreign homes I’ve met are very vivid. Thankfully I did manage to say a good goodbye each time. (Although it was still really hard to leave!) anyway, great post which I will have to share with my community, thank you.

  17. Laura

    A beautiful post, complete with beautiful photos!

  18. kelly m.

    Timely and true. I just left my home of ten years and it was so hard. I can so relate to the just leave thoughts but agree that we need to goodbye to embrace the next season. As hard as leAving was, my Dr vision was whY I hoped it would be. I tried to be grateful that I was going to miss them so much as it reminded me how blessed I had been.

  19. Rachael

    Hello! You would not believe how comforting it was to read about someone else feeling awkward with the hugs and goodbyes. I thought it was just me! (And something was wrong with me!)…. I too am an INTJ.

  20. Fawn Carriker

    What a lovely post, Tsh. For the past several years my life has been filled with good byes — to my mom with breast cancer, to my marriage that had been dying on the vine for years, even to the financially-comfortable life as a retiree that I would have had if I had stayed married. But along with all these very necessary good byes have come some exciting hellos. And I am eager to embrace them to the fullest. – Fawn

  21. Peter

    So…now I’m retired. RETIRED! Turning my back and walking away from my identity; who I am; what I am. When asked “what do you do?” I can now only reply with, “I’m retired.” Yep, my new identity which has very little to say about the bearer. Speak that word and even a new acquaintance has you figured out…’retired.’ Sure, there were lots of good byes exchanged with people. But those were good byes for changing roles. No longer am I the employer and they the employees or the material suppliers or customers–those goodbyes are finished…”good bye!”

    But now … now, several years later, I find myself in a position of having to say good bye to some really old, good friends. Never mind that they are inanimate objects; they have identities they can’t change and that I won’t change and I have taken on a role of friendship with … my trade tools!

    I had never given any thought to sending them on their way. They are mine. They served me faithfully. When I think of sending them on their way, my breathing changes. How could I do this. They never let me down.

    Well, I woke up a few days ago and gave it some long thought. I…”I” retired. Is this fair? They sit in the workshop, idle. No one turns to them for help. No one NEEDS them. So, I find myself saying a silent “goodbye” as I place their pictures and specs on Craigslist.

    Cheer up everyone, I’m going fishing on the Colorado River!

  22. Tricia Paoluccio

    I really appreciate this post tsh…i just forwarded it to my best friend who is currently in africa shooting a tv series until november…i know it is such a unique six months of her life and i am so glad to send your post to her as she is now in her last months there…im sure she will really appreciate it!
    my favorite line hurts my heart too: 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….I know there is real truth to that. However it also makes me think of that childhood chant, “make new friends but keep the is silver and the other gold…” i want that to always be true. but the reality is..and i’m only NOW finally really seeing this and accepting it…that things DO change, people move and their friendships and relationships do alter..nothing is forever…and thats ok. true happiness is experienced in the moment…not living in the past or for the future….anyway….your post was a great read and got me thinking. thanks so much! and good luck with all your travels. xo tricia your friend in nyc (you can crash in my apt if you need when you get back!)

  23. Anna

    You nailed it in this post! We received the same guidance before we moved here to France (from Oregon!). Part of me wanted to not add to the stress and just jet. But all the reasons you list for “saying goodbye well” … so true.

  24. Tabitha

    My husband and I are about to say goodbye to life as we’ve known it and take our two small children (3 & 20 mo) with us to Ethiopia for about 6 months. We are going to be working with an organization that helps to free women from the sex trade there. We are so excited for our new journey and I feel like this post will speak more to me when we have to leave Ethiopia to return to the States. I’d love to read your experiences with handling reverse culture shock as I’m imagining I may have a bit of that to work through too. Thanks for sharing!

  25. Colleen Higgs

    Thanks, Tsh! My first move was when I left for university at 18. Same house. Same church. Same friends as I had in kindergarten.

    My older kids have already lived on three continents, in under six years. I am still learning to say goodbye well. I find one real challenge is to get the timing right: to stay present, mentally, until it is actually time to go, even while preparing to leave; and to show up at arrival time, not to linger over what we’ve left behind so much that it delays our entrance into a new life and culture and community.

    My other big challenge is to say what I should, I am also uncomfortable with emotional displays, but sometimes I need to risk a little emotion and just say that I appreciate someone, especially at goodbye time. Really. Suck it up, princess and just say it!

    I am very interested in your debriefing workshop! I would love to share some of that type of material with our fellow ex-pats before we all head home!

  26. Sandra

    I’ve said goodbye way too many times this last couple of years. First off to go travelling, then to go off and do more travelling, then to actually become an expat and not know when I was seeing my family and friends again. It was a happy sad for me, as I knew I was off somewhere to be with the person I loved but at the same time, I was leaving behind everything that felt familiar to me and venture into living in Melbourne. I still miss my family and friends greatly but they know the reason I’m here is not to get away from them but for me to be with the person I love.

  27. Krista

    We are in the process of what feels like a somewhat drawn-out goodbye. After 10 years where we currently live, we are moving away. Closer to family actually, but now leaving behind friends-who-are-family. Today on my way home from Target I thought about what I am saying goodbye to: my sister-friend-coworker who I love deeply, the doctors I’ve worked with for almost 3 years (who I would pop in a box and take with me if I could), our sweet little home where my son took his first steps, the memory of the baby we lost to an early miscarriage one cold March morning… well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? You don’t leave memories behind. And sister-friends can make plans to come out and visit. And there is a lovely home waiting for us on the other end. And being 3 hours away from family as opposed to 8 hours is really something nice. And God is in the middle of all of it, comforting our aching hearts.

  28. Deb

    A thoughtful post. As UK expats living in Sydney, we face goodbyes to family and friends on an annual basis. Even after 17 years of living here, the goodbyes never get any easier. No amount of preparation eases the pain of a goodbye, but what does aid the recovery is building memories with those visiting us to keep us strong until the next time. For us, a long awaited return trip to UK next year (4 years since our last visit) is already in the making – flights booked, plans being made and the thought of having to say goodbye at the end of a month long trip is where it belongs – at the back of my mind. Happy travels!

  29. Liz Taylor

    I am a professional organizer and I work with a life coach. We specialize in downsizing and transition. We both have moved multiple times and I could not have said it better myself.

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