The Art of Saying Goodbye

art of saying goodbyesI grew up overseas. In fact, I attended 15 different schools by the time I graduated high school. So you could say I’ve experienced my share of goodbyes. (Usually I was the one leaving.)

Now that I have a family of my own and have lived in the same city and the same house, for an amazing thirteen-year stretch, I’m now experiencing more goodbyes where I am the one staying behind. Recently I visited a friend during her final week as they loaded up their tilting piles of cardboard boxes and their kids to take a new job four states away. Before I arrived, I sat in the parking lot of a shopping plaza, scrawling her going away card. It felt like my pen also flowed with my own memories of bittersweet goodbyes. And I thought, What makes for the best goodbyes?

The best goodbyes are made with open hands.

No one wins when we dig in our heels, refusing to let go or accept someone is leaving. It takes time (I know well) to come to terms with circumstances, acknowledging God is the one who appoints the times and locations for each of us (Acts 17:26). The best gift you can give to others is to release them to follow God’s leading in their lives.

The best gift you can give to others is to release them to follow God’s leading in their lives. Click To Tweet

If you’re the one getting on a plane, acknowledge that the friends you leave behind will change. Pray that God brings new friends in their path. Invest the time to reimagine what a long distance friendship with them might look like. Make a plan–and act on it! Remember that those you’re leaving aren’t going toward a new (and often exciting) something like you are. They’re just feeling the loss.

The best goodbyes leave well.

A former boss of mine spoke on numerous occasions about the importance of leaving well. Make every effort to leave on good terms, to finish with integrity and your head held high, no matter the goodbye. You never know when you might cross paths in the future, need a reference, or have the opportunity to partner in future endeavors. And honestly–God sees our past as well as our future. We don’t leave it behind. Why not walk in a manner worthy in this circumstance, too?

When saying goodbye, leave in such a way that you can call on a favor in the future. Leave graciously. Generously. Peacefully.

The best goodbyes take time to celebrate.

Rejoice in the person, the accomplishments, the relationship and the new adventure that awaits! It’s too easy to let time pass and casual goodbyes come and go without giving the people involved the proper respect and acknowledgment of who they are, what they have accomplished, and what they mean to people.

This takes intentionality. Don’t wait till the last minute! Get a time on the calendar now to have that special outing, a coffee date, or a goodbye party. One of the most meaningful and simple ways to do this? Take 10-15 min. to step out of your schedule and reflect on the special memories and characteristics of the person to whom you’re saying goodbye. Consider the impact they’ve had on you and share this with them in a handwritten card.

Lean in for the best goodbyes. Don’t pull away.

This one can be hard for me. After all my childhood goodbyes, I came to the point of protecting myself from having to leave another good friend. All too often I have observed the announcement of someone leaving…and everyone starts backing off, cutting ties and moving on with life without them –even though they haven’t left yet! This can leave the person feeling like no one cares, that they’re not needed, that their work and effort was unappreciated and that they are on their own as they move into a new season in life. Take initiative to press in and prioritize times to connect with those who are most important to you before one of you departs.

The best goodbyes provide stepping stones.

A good friend is one who, as you prepare to depart, takes time to sit with you and imagine what lies ahead on your new adventure. Listen to your friends’ thoughts, dreams, and fears as they leap into the unknown. Consider what you can do to support them, encourage them, pray for them and share your love even once they have moved away. You might pack handwritten notes of encouragement or verses in their suitcases, call them periodically after they have left, schedule times to visit face to face on Skype or Facetime (this can take some serious arrangement when you’re dealing with different time zones), and send some notes or even a package ahead to meet them there. Make sure they know that they have not been forgotten and that they are supported during their transition.

The best goodbyes are full of love, thoughtfulness, and the unexpected.

The goodbyes that stand out the most in my memory involve special unexpected gestures of generosity and love. These included

  • offers to come and pack with us
  • surprise serenades the evening before we left
  • people who took off work or even traveled to see us off at the airport
  • thoughtful gifts with special meaning
  • recognition and words of affirmation, blessings and prayers for the adventure ahead

I do love a good going-away party! There is nothing quite like having a group of people together in one place to capture a season in life together and to send off a friend with love.

I’m not sure, as you read this, whether you find yourself being left behind or you’re the one saying farewell to the familiar. Either way: Do what’s in your ability to provide the best goodbyes possible.

Editor’s note: Our host country’s office typically assembles a “goodbye book” for each person leaving, chock-full of notes, photos, and mementos from their stay; past staff who’ve left are also emailed to allow them the opportunity to say goodbye. The book is presented at their goodbye party, where there’s also an “open mic” of sorts. What “goodbye rituals” have helped send you or others meaningfully and generously?

Have great ideas for goodbyes? Share ’em with us below!

2 thoughts on “The Art of Saying Goodbye

  1. dani says:

    Very good article. Thanks for the inspiration. I remember “good goodbyes” very well because they leave the door open for conversations in the future that are a blessing in seeing all God has done since the last time you spoke. Those are the ones that you know are still a part of your tribe!

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