Health & Education

There’s wisdom in saying goodbye

03.15.2011 TJ McKnight Health & Wellness
By Tom Bender

Tribal Mental Health counselor

I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wis. For this last Super Bowl, I went to the home of fellow-Cheese Heads to enjoy some food and watch the game.

My friends were aware that my wife and I were moving to New Mexico at the end of March. As we stood at the front door to say our goodbyes, they suggested we get together one more time before we leave.

My first instinct was to say, "Yes, of course," even as I knew that another get together was unlikely. I paused for a moment, took in these two wonderful people and told them, thank you, but no. I explained that we would be extremely busy between now and our moving date and suggested we say our farewells over the telephone.

It felt liberating to honor the moment and not pretend I could agree to something I knew would not happen.

For many of us, goodbyes are a sad affair, one that we would rather not think about or avoid altogether. If a loved one is facing the end of their life, we may even stay in denial all the way to the end -- anything not to feel.

The day before my father was to go in for triple bypass surgery, my stepmother and I were in his hospital room for a visit. I asked my dad if his impending operation had him thinking about his own mortality. His wife looked at me sternly and said, "Tom!" My father gently waved her off and said, "No, that's OK. I want to talk about it."  

I have worked with many people who have lost any number of friends and family members in their lives; some due to illness and death, some to prison time and substance abuse, and some simply because people move away and relationships end. If we have spent a good part of our lives avoiding these farewells and repressing our sadness and our grief, then each ensuing goodbye may stimulate the pain we carry from all the previous, unfelt partings. To stem the tide of our emotions, we sometimes even resort to self-medication through our addictions.

To be alive is to face the fire of many farewells. With each goodbye, we get to feel our heart break just a little more and learn about our bottomless capacity to love and grow. But if we come from a place of fear of loss, we may discover that in our attempt to avoid the pain of too much sorrow, we have limited our own ability to love and connect with other human beings

A number of spiritual lineages say that the way to increase what one wants in life is to give it away. You want more love in your life? Be more loving. You want more compassion? Practice compassion in action. You want to be heard? Practice active listening.

And if you want to become more tender of heart and mind? Allow yourself to consciously say farewell and to feel your grief and sadness.

Thank you, Grand Ronde. It has been a privilege working with you these last three-and-a-half years.