Embracing Goodbyes

Kayla Wang Ph.D.

As an early professional transitioning and stepping into the professional role, numerous challenges already present. The pandemic itself also creates a sense of time being stolen as plans were interrupted and routines upended. Many of us find ourselves struggling with a sense of loss, not only for loved ones but also for the comfort and familiarity of the routines we once knew. We didn’t have time to say goodbye, and we had to be resilient and adapt to all the changes with limited time to process our own feelings and thoughts. We not only experience it ourselves, as group facilitators and clinicians, we have also seen the impact of the changes on our clients, their anxieties, uncertainties, fear, and loss.

As a clinician with an interest in grief and loss, I’ve come to realize the significant gap in our conversations around the concept of saying goodbye. As a result, many people find it difficult to navigate feelings of confusion, lost, and a lack of closure when faced with loss of loved ones or relationships. Reflecting on my own experiences as a person, I recognized a notable absence of discussions about farewells and the meaning of it. Sometimes goodbyes come when we least expect them, and it catches us off guard and leaves us with lingering and unresolved feelings.

During my doctoral program, I co-facilitated a group for cancer patients. I still remember my first session when a member shared, “absence for this group may mean something different; we may never see that person again.” In that moment, a wave of sadness washed over me, and it made me realize the inevitability of loss in life and the importance of creating spaces where group members can openly express their feelings and thoughts related to it. I’ve come to understand the profound complexity along with goodbyes. It stemmed from love yet overshadowed by our fear of facing the meaning of loss. However, saying goodbyes is an opportunity for connection, empathy, understanding, and healing. It provides us valuable perspectives and reflections on the significance of people in our lives. Saying goodbyes allows us to honor memory with those people we love and understand our own experience in the process. It’s not just about our loved ones but also parts of ourselves. It’s about acknowledging the pain of loss and finding the courage and direction to move forward with the memories from the past. Rather than forgetting, we embrace the journey of healing and growth that lies ahead.

As clinicians, it’s important that we acknowledge and actively address the topic of termination and goodbyes within therapeutic settings. It could be sad and uncomfortable to talk about termination and goodbyes, but we can help normalize the experience of saying goodbyes in life. Sadness and fear can be met with empathy and understanding, and goodbyes would be recognized as a natural part of the human experience. We can model healthy coping strategies, provide space for clients to express their feelings, and empower them to navigate goodbyes with resilience and acceptance.

Let’s embrace goodbyes not as endings, but as opportunities to express our gratitude and affection. For in every goodbye, there lies a message: “I love and care about you.”

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