The Difference Between Leaving and Saying Goodbye

On my third appointment with my therapist I hit her with two big questions. The first I wrote about here. The second was this: how do you say goodbye?

Our denomination moves it’s clergy from place to place. They teach us how to leave but not how to say goodbye.

This discussion with my therapist was more complex. She asked: What were my expectations? Did I see saying goodbye as more emotional?

We talked about the directions we’re given when we leave an appointment. There is a detailed list about cleaning the house and packing. It goes so far as to say “label the boxes” (as if anyone would pack a box and not label its contents).

There’s another list with specifics to include for the people who will be following us. There is no shortage of information on how to leave.

But where’s the list telling you how to say goodbye? When do they tell you you’re likely to have feelings of loss and grief and that these feelings can come before you leave?

No one tells you that months after you’ve left you’ll remember a funny moment when you were there and laugh out loud. Or that you may have feelings of sadness or depression; that leaving is hard.

It’s easy to outline the tangibles; to make a to-do list for packing and cleaning and preparing the way for the next people.

It’s even easy to smile at your farewell reception. You’re going through the motions because you’re living on adrenaline and it’s reminding you of all you have to do next.

It was years before I realized that isn’t saying goodbye. I recognized I had learned some tricks along the way. If you didn’t get too close to people, if you treated them as congregants or volunteers and kept them at arms length then saying goodbye seemed easy. Only that’s not real. It’s superficial and you’ve cheated them and yourself from genuine fellowship.

Now, as we prepare for our last farewell as we enter retirement I want to know how I can do more than leave.

I’ve been journaling my feelings and trying to figure out this goodbye thing. As I worked on a draft for a blog post Emily Freeman’s name came up in my inbox with the subject line reading: 3 Simple Ways to Say Goodbye

There was no mistaking God was hearing my concerns and answering my heart cries.

I’m including the link to her article because you really should read it. We’re all going through goodbye’s of one kind or another so consider her words.

Here’s a couple of things that spoke deeply to me:

Maybe one reason you’ve not been able to move forward into your next right thing is because there’s an ending lingering in your life that never ended with a period.

It was Christmas break of my 8th grade year. I was enjoying school, where we lived and life in general. A day or two after Christmas my parents packed us up and we moved to another town. We would soon learn they left their life as ministers and would divorce. There were no goodbyes, no farewells. We just left. Almost 50 years later this is still a tender spot in my heart.

 As Emily writes, “the first thing is to put a period on the experience.

Don’t let the stuff outweigh the sacred.

Photographs and memories help us mark special times in our life. They are the stuff. The sacred is the impact those moments and people had in your life. How did it change you or help shape you some way?

The sacred things we mark from the ending will be brought forth into our beginnings, not necessarily because of an external thing we bring with us, but because of the person we have become.” 

I have viewed our retirement as an ending. When someone told me it’s the next chapter I corrected her and said it’s the last chapter.

As trite as it may sound it’s true that every ending is also a beginning. I’ve chosen to look at the ending without considering how it’s been preparing me for a new beginning. This is the space I need to give more thought. This is what will help me say goodbye without that unfinished feeling that lingers. It’s a hollow feeling when you fail to mark the sacred things from the time that was.

I know I’ve been changed from those surrounding me. I am full of gratitude for how they’ve impacted my life and given me more understanding of grace.

This is how to say goodbye: with a heart full and running over with gratitude for God’s gift of unending grace and His reckless love.

4 thoughts on “The Difference Between Leaving and Saying Goodbye

  1. Peggy Fort says:

    I love reading your posts, It’s a wonderful gift you have being able to put your thoughts & feelings on paper.
    May God Bless You in your new beginning
    Peggy Fort

  2. Lesley says:

    It’s true that the practical side of leaving is relatively easy, but the emotional side of saying goodbye is much more complicated and less predictable. I love that Emily Freeman’s article appeared at just the right moment for you, and I love her insights about the importance of leaving a situation recognising how it has shaped us and thinking about how it has prepared us for something new. Praying for you as you work through all of this!

    • Debby says:

      Reading Emily’s post helped me find some clarity. I agree that the timing was nothing short of God’s hand in it. Thanks for your encouragement, Lesley! xx

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