“What’s so good about goodbye? All it does is make you cry. Well, if leaving causes grieving and depart can break your heart, tell me what’s so good about it? I could have done without it.” Smokey Robinson
When I graduated high school, “What’s So Good About Goodbye” was a favorite song. We were in boarding school, each of us coming from different parts of the country. Once my classmates and I left school, we didn’t know if we would ever see each other again. At that time, nothing seemed good about goodbye.
I grew up in the military where saying goodbye was an important ritual. You never knew when you might see a loved one, a trusted friend, a favorite teacher, or the home you loved, for the last time. Because of this, goodbye was always in the foreground of consciousness. You learned to honor it and say it everyday, whether it was leaving home to start your day, being transferred from one location to another, or when the flag was lowered at the end of each day and Taps was played. Slinking off, dropping out, or fading away was not an option. Whether you liked it or not, goodbye was treated with as much respect as hello.
Sometimes goodbye is a ritual of the heart. It is the inner knowing that a job has come to an end, an assignment completed, an event concluded. No words are necessary. A goodbye ritual might be as simple as crossing a completed task off your list, making your bed at the end of a good night’s sleep, turning lights on at sundown, or a private journal entry saying farewell to meat as you embrace a vegetarian lifestyle.
Ritual helps us mark and even celebrate endings, including sad ones. Sometimes goodbyes are formalized in public rituals such as retirement parties, funerals, bon voyage parties, graduations, or divorce proceedings. At other times endings take us by surprise and have no ritual – an unexpected rejection, a falling out with a friend, an unforeseen breakup with a lover, being “downsized” in your job, children leaving home with little or no warning.
Without formalized goodbye rituals we are left to create them on our own – and create them we must for without ritual, nothing about goodbye seems good.
Regardless of the circumstances that lead to parting – goodbye rituals provide structure, boundary, and definition. Saying goodbye allows us to put the past to rest. Goodbye is a process. It is more than a statement you make or the actual act of leaving. Goodbye, to be complete, requires a period of transition from what was, to what is, to what’s next – from fullness to emptiness to fullness again. In order to accept that something is over, we must acknowledge the ending – and then mourn the loss before we can begin again with a clean slate. This is true no matter what the ending is – no matter how important, or how trivial.
Before we can freely and enthusiastically say hello – we have to say goodbye. But how you say it matters.
Our memories stay with us, so when we recall the person, place, event, or habit we’ve said goodbye to, we want the memory to be as sweet as possible. When you say goodbye in anger and leave it at that, you have unfinished business that, if left unattended, can turn to bitterness. Your negative feelings will continue to haunt you until you find a way to weave love and forgiveness into the hurt, and disappointment that can come with certain endings. Once you decide to enter into the process of saying goodbye lovingly, and this is an internal process, the love stays with you and returns to you in memories that are loving, joyful, reverent, and sweet. That’s what’s good about goodbye.
Our emotional well-being depends on our willingness to say goodbye with love and reverence in our hearts. Without this, goodbye is never good or complete. In yoga we end each practice with a pose called savasana. It is a formal ritualized way of saying goodbye. It is symbolic of dying to what was, to make room for what is to come. When we end our yoga practice this way, we realize that the world doesn’t come to an end, we are simply finishing what we started, and then we begin again. What a wonderful practice to take off our yoga mats and into our lives.