“I don’t know why you say goodbye/ I say hello.”
Each Goodbye is Hello
When we graduate from a school it’s called a “commencement.” By definition a “commencement” is a beginning. I don’t know about you, but when I go to a “commencement” I’m usually celebrating an end. In truth however, we are celebrating a beginning and an end, all at the same time. And so it is with so much of life.
The hellos don’t necessarily soften the blow of the goodbyes. It’s not an either-or. We can love the hello and feel shredded by the goodbye at the same time. We have no scarcity of emotional options: We can feel many seemingly opposing things all at the same time. Lucky (?) us?
Relationships Are Always Hello and Goodbye
Most human beings I know have this idea for at least some part of their lives that relationships should last “forever.” That expectation leaves us with heartbreak, (not merely grief,) again and again. We can get so caught up in our fear of the goodbye that we miss many of the hellos the relationship is offering.
- When someone we love gets seriously sick and we wonder how we will fathom it if or when they pass away.
- When our deeply cherished pets grow older and we enter “The Thank You Years,” where we show them how much we appreciate all that they gave to us by pouring ourselves out to help them be as comfortable as possible while they prepare to leave us.
- When we parent children and they “practice leaving” all through their growing up years; Going to daycare or a babysitter, going to school, going to camp, going on a trip with friends, going with the other parent if we aren’t together …always going toward the independent lives for which we try to equip them.
- When friendships that once made so much sense in our lives, now cut us with the fraying edges that tell us they aren’t so mutually beneficial in the current life stage.
We are always saying goodbye. Anticipating the goodbye cheats us of countless hellos, and then makes it that much harder to see, accept, appreciate the hellos that come on the other side of the transition we’re in.
“Don’t Be Stupid, Tiffany”
When my daughter was an infant I honestly didn’t think I could do the whole mother-child bonding thing. When she was about four months old (and had finally started sleeping for more than 20 minutes at a time,) I finally had enough gray matter connected to notice that I was holding some part of myself back in our relationship. I knew she deserved better, but I felt frozen with terror over what would happen if I let myself love her the way I really did love her.
I had a conversation with a very dear friend who was then in her 70’s. She had raised seven children very successfully. I told her I was so aware of how deeply this child could hurt me, that I was afraid to just let myself love her with all my heart. I knew she could shatter me.
In her gentle, compassionate and tender, very frank Pittsburgh style my friend said, “Tiffany, don’t be stupid.” She explained that yes, my child was absolutely going to hurt me. That’s how relationships work. She challenged me to consider how much both my daughter and I would miss out on if I didn’t give in to my love for her.
I gave in. I’ve never regretted it.
My wise friend also equated my challenge with my daughter to her very long term marriage. She and her husband had married as teenagers. They had stayed such sweethearts that he would, even after more than 50 years of marriage, even as he became frail with cancer and was dying, would swoop into her office crooning to his “best girl” in his delicious, well-cultivated baritone voice. It was amazing. She told me that loving him without reservation was more than worth every drop of pain that would come when he passed away.
Very few marriages have that trajectory, as much as we may love the story of it. It’s really hard to know who will make sense as our intimate companion at 60 when we are 20. One of the biggest pitfalls I see in my client’s marriages is not embracing that healthy marriages will necessarily go through developmental stages just like people do. The ones that fare the best are the ones in which spouses make conscious choices about what they are saying hello to, and what they are saying goodbye to, in each iteration of the marriage over time.
What I learned is that the inevitably of goodbye has the potential to shape the now, if, we don’t allow our fear of heartbreak to interfere. If we stay mindful of the impending goodbye, even if it seems to be a long, long way off, we can choose to juice every little drop of “now” for what it’s worth and miss as little as possible. Then, when the goodbye has come, we have a legacy of good, of gifts, of magic that we can savor as we grieve. Our lives are inestimably richer for the hello that led to the goodbye.
As life has a way of doing, each goodbye also opens new hellos. Nothing replaces relationships lost. At the same time, those relationships transform themselves into something new – How I relate to my mother now that she is deceased, how we relate to adult children, how we take the lessons of romantic relationships forward into our learning. The goodbye carves out a new space in our lives where we determine which hellos we will accept. We can offer them the energy we used to devote to whatever we said goodbye to. All things recycle, continuously.
Broken and Healing
Our hearts break again and again in our lives, if we let them. They can transform into something with more depth, more brilliance, more compassion. They can feel unbearable while we are deep in our grief. And yet, somehow, one way or another, goodbye finds a way to introduce us to hellos we couldn’t have known existed.
We hold hello and goodbye like bittersweet chocolate in our mouths, neither the bitter nor the sweet fighting for supremacy. I choose to let it all transform me.
If you’re struggling with the weird dance of hello and goodbye in your life, contact Tiffany today. Let’s try to make some sense out of it together.