How to Say Goodbye

Good-bye 2012.
As we move into a new year, creating resolutions, making promises and generally turning our attention towards the bright and shiny future, I would like to pause. As I find myself Not Quite Twenty-Thirteen Ready, I would like to hang out for a moment or two in what for me is a liminal space.

We are so busy with our Hellos.

We move quickly from Howdy to the next wonderful thing which also gets a Hey There from us and yet our often unsaid Good-byes are important, too. Have you read Franny & Zooey? Check out the last page — Salinger puts together the best good-bye in fiction (feel free to share a better one with me if you disagree). I’ll quote it at the end of this post.

As a couples counselor I focus my work on bringing two people closer together, helping them see more fully this most amazing person they chose as a partner, lover, spouse, friend. I aim for greater connection — for Hello and Who Are You rather than Good-bye We Are Done Here. And yet, there are times when the work I do with clients is to help them take leave of each other whether temporarily or not.

We do not learn how to do this well in our culture of day trading and drive through coffee shops. We are taught to move quickly through divorce or break-up or even death. We should move on, buck up, get back out there (whatever that means!). We do not learn how to honor an ending by lovingly letting the other person go, by allowing the pain of loss to fill us up and yet trusting we will make it through. We are not taught to study how we got from beginning to end so that we might learn more about ourselves.

Even smaller good-byes are rushed through as if inconsequential. We dash off to work, smartphones in hand, texting through breakfast, moving towards our first meeting and in the meantime we have left the person we love most in the world without a kiss, a hug, an acknowledgement of parting.

Good-byes are often the Best Thing For Us in theory and yet in practice they are so wrenching. I understand why we want to rush through them to get away from that experience. Pain is to be avoided – hence the amygdala’s famous fight, flight or freeze function – we fear pain so we move quickly to avoid it. And yet without hanging out in the good-bye we also miss honoring a connection, a relationship, a love that we hold. By avoiding good-bye we miss acknowledging our attachment to others which is in the long term a lonelier and therefore more painful way to live.

And so before I fully embrace this New Year, I pause here to say farewell to the last one. 2012 was filled with new beginnings as well as many endings. Births, engagements, weddings and funerals. Hellos and Good-byes of all sorts and sizes. And here, as promised, is Salinger, showing us the way –

“Franny took in her breath slightly but continued to hold the phone to her ear. A dial tone, of course, followed the formal break in the connection. She appeared to find it extraordinarily beautiful to listen to, rather as it were the best possible substitute for the primordial silence itself. But she seemed to know, too, when to stop listening to it, as if all of what little or much wisdom there is in the world were suddenly hers.” – J.D. Salinger

Bye for now,

Brenda Fowler, MA