The Art of Saying Goodbye: Navigating Life Transitions

| Katherine Roethling, LCSW

What first comes to mind when you think of the summer season? Possibly thoughts of beaches, lightning bugs, or inescapable humidity. What may not come immediately to mind is the fact that summer is a time of significant life transitions, but this concept tends to be much more universal during the summer regardless of your summer plans or where you live. During this time, younger kids often will be transitioning from one grade to the next, while some adults may be preparing to send their children off to college. And that doesn’t even include the number of weddings that take place around this time of year!

Even when these life transitions are filled with excitement and anticipation, the act of saying goodbye can be incredibly difficult. The feelings that accompany saying goodbye form a wide spectrum, including sadness, anxiety, relief, anger, resistance, and discomfort, just to name a few. Everyone approaches these uncomfortable feelings in different ways. Maybe you avoid saying goodbye or addressing the transition until absolutely necessary. Or perhaps you notice yourself feeling numb, even when the person you’re saying goodbye to is very important to you. A number of people will even pick fights or get angry, as sometimes it feels easier to be angry with someone than to mourn their absence.

For those of you who are anticipating a significant life transition this summer, whether it be your own transition or the transition of someone important to you, here are three things to keep in mind:

If you are able to do so, try to tie up any loose ends prior to saying your goodbyes rather than saving them for the final moment. Goodbyes can be especially difficult when there are acute feelings of regret or resentment. You may not be able to control what feelings you experience when the transition arrives, but you may be able to control the intensity of those feelings.

Be willing to acknowledge and name the feelings that you are experiencing, both to yourself and to the people around you. Our feelings communicate so much information to ourselves and others, and by telling someone “I’m feeling really anxious/sad/reluctant to be saying goodbye to you,” you are giving that person a greater sense of understanding as to what the relationship represents to you.

Reach out to others for support. If you worry how a person will respond to a goodbye, receiving guidance from others who know that person well or who have walked this path before can help you navigate what exactly to say.

While it is natural to want to avoid goodbyes or let things pass unsaid, taking the time for a “good goodbye” is a gift that you can offer someone who has been an important figure of your life.

Today's the day to make a change.