I walked away sobbing, nose running, eyes streaming, and face red. In that moment, I vowed to capture the essence and importance of goodbye both personally and socially. A lofty task indeed. As someone who struggles with endings, I write this piece from the heart.
Think back to the last time you said goodbye. What happened? How did you feel? Who was the recipient of your goodbye? Did that goodbye matter? How so? And now the big question – did you know you would see that person again?
I recently had a wonderful visit from my mother and father, who’d come to visit from England. I noticed for the first time, accepting my previous denial that they were getting older: the afternoon fatigue, and subtly slower movements belied their outward resiliency and commitment to aging gracefully. There was a lot to do and see and make happen during our brief time together. I savored every experience with gratitude.
As with all good things, the visit ended too swiftly. The departing flight beckoned. I had already informed my parents every day of my gratitude and love for them, a practice I implemented during previous visits based largely on too many things left unsaid and my own failure to acknowledge the brevity of our time together. I looked at my mum, and then my dad, held my mum and thanked her again, then held my dad and finally, with relief, let go of the sadness I held in for so long. I wept heavily and hugged him, as he whispered in my ear, “enjoy life,” which only fueled my sorrow. Then back to my mum, more of the same and finally, back to my father, eye contact and more sharing of love and gratitude. Our farewell and inevitable parting could be prolonged no longer. I began to walk away. I looked back fleetingly for one last connection. They were gone.
A few thoughts whispered through my mind in a free flow of contemplation during my purposeful walk back to my car.
Personal: I am fortunate to have such brilliant parents still alive and my pain at saying goodbye is far outweighed by the wonders of our time spent together, and my gratitude, happiness and acceptance of the cycle of life and natural process of aging.
Social: We expect men to manage their emotions and not to cry. Why is this notion still supported? In leaving my parents, I embraced this open display of masculine challenge. My tears fell, I looked unkempt and poorly composed, yet my catharsis was enormous. Crying felt right. I did not feel emasculated. This was an acknowledgement of my love for my parents and of missing bonds in absentia. This was an outward display of strength. So here you go world - men cry too. And for me, that works. We who work with the chronically ill, doing grief and loss work know that life brings all of us to tears, perhaps a lot more than one might expect, and that such expression is both natural and healthy.
I have shared some wonderful relationships in my life, some brief, some long lasting and many still ongoing. All eventually will end, at least in a physical sense, and this realization makes every interaction and parting more important. I would encourage you to revisit my initial opening questions and embrace what you feel, appreciate the scale of parting ways and make sure that person knows how much you mean to them. The future is far from guaranteed.
My hope is that through sharing, and coming from an existential place of wonder, you will consider goodbye in your personal and professional life, not as an informal custom, but as an opportunity to feel gratitude and appreciation for life and for the journeys and adventures that we are allowed enter into, oftentimes, temporarily, with those whom we love as well as those whom we support and serve.
Christian Billington is an LPC/LMFT candidate. He is passionate about end of life issues, grief and loss, disaster mental health, helping the helpers and the development of training and support to better prepare the emergency services for what they experience in the field. Christian has a modest private practice that can be found here www.patchlanecounseling.com