The Ways We Say Goodbye


Last night I started thinking about all the ways in which we say goodbye and all the times I’ve left a situation, a relationship, a place, a job. I thought about the situations I’m in now I know will be nothing more than a memory in a year’s time. Oh how bittersweet it is to think about the life you live now and to realize it’s impermanence. Goodbyes and endings are all so different, yet so similar in many ways.

Goodbyes never happen in the ways we think they will. They can happen in the same ways hellos often do: subtle and unexpected but powerful enough they can turn your whole life upside down without so much as a whisper.

Sometimes we think we can plan goodbyes. We can overthink and estimate and rehearse everything we’ll say – all the final words and thoughts left in another person’s care to think about and consider.

If they only knew this. If I could only leave these last words to them then they’ll know. Then they’ll really get it.

Goodbyes and endings start differently than hellos and beginnings, though. A goodbye starts slowly, in your sleep, when you lay upon dreamless pillows, waking to the morning light where nothing feels quite as it did the morning before. It hits you there, in the stomach, in the shallow waves of your nerves. Something’s different, but what?

Goodbyes begin in a text or phone call gone unanswered just a little bit longer than usual. They begin in a tone of voice used that surprises even yourself when you use it. They’re the hesitation before speaking, the way you sit with someone at dinner and wonder if you’ll ever share another moment like this again, the longing for something you can’t quite put your finger on but you know you want it regardless.

We say goodbye in ways that can haunt us for years and other times we abandon situations so carelessly it’s as if the experience was merely a story in someone else’s book we read while half-asleep.

I know these things and yet, I wish I could get better at goodbyes, at endings. I wish I could hold every person’s hand I’ve had to leave and look them in the eye and tell them truthfully the impact they’ve had on me. I often think about this when I’m leaving a foreign country, a city I’m visiting, an ex-lover’s house I know I’ll never see again, or when I’m walking away from an afternoon of coffee and conversation with an old friend.

But of course, I don’t say those things. It would be too weird, too intimate, too something that would break up the regular routine of human interaction we’re all so used to. They would look at me strangely and stutter with their words until my cheeks flushed and I ran away or maybe they’d just stare at me a little to see if I’m feeling well. That’s the thing about goodbyes – sometimes we feel more comfortable in what’s left unsaid than to ever lay out on the table what lies within our hearts. I know the mind can become saturated in its own anxiety and frustrations, doubt and ego, contradicting the very thing the human heart wants, but when will we stop abandoning one another and abandoning our own truths for what we think is easier?

We don’t often get to choose the souls we collide with, the people that make us feel at home in their care, the infatuated ones whose lips we get lost in that we ultimately leave when our hearts are bruised and we need to find our way again. I know we don’t choose who enters into our lives and when they exit, I only want the goodbyes to be as memorable as the hellos.