Goodbye seems to be the hardest word

I never quite understood the need to say goodbye. I enjoyed a quick wrap-up, silently slipping into the shadows instead of creating fanfare with a farewell.

That is, until I was on the receiving end. When you discover that someone has disappeared on you, you feel oddly hurt even if this person had only been a coffee break “hey, how’s it going” acquaintance. It means that you were not significant, not worth the additional words, “today’s my last day in this company.” It may just well be the personification of ghosting before ghosting entered our vernacular.

A disappearing act may be comforting for those of us who dislike awkward goodbyes, yet it steals the chance for a chapter to close nicely, instead leaving the open book face up and exposed. It prevents us from experiencing what social psychologist Arie Kruglanski calls cognitive closure or being able to have “definite knowledge on some issue” and “eschew confusion and ambiguity” (Webster & Kruglanski, 2011).

Now, I couldn’t reiterate more to clients the importance of a proper farewell and closure. It helps one to make personal meaning of a passing event before it fades into the dark recesses of one’s mind. Without adequate attempts to introspect, process, reflect and create a chance for closure, this memory may emerge once in a while to instigate distress and wreck stability. A suitable closure allows us to let go of things that need to be let go, to declutter and create head- and heart-space for more things to come.

Seoul counselling

As we ponder over the closing of another year and embrace the hope of 2019, what are some things you may wish to bid farewell to? Alongside a New Year’s resolution list, considering what you wish to let go of from this year (not why, the accomplice of self-blame and rumination) is another way to reflect upon a year well spent.

Having a farewell ritual is a meaningful way to set the stage for closure. To clients relocating to another country, I ask if they had thought about where they would like to go for a last time and who (or what, we do not discriminate against favourite park benches) they would like to exchange words with. A client with limited Korean speaking skills thought of an enthusiastic mini-mart cashier who would exuberantly exchange hand signals and body gestures with her as they mimed the transaction process.

Another client recently popped by for a final session the day before flying off, despite us not having met for over two months. I appreciated this last meeting greatly, which provided not just him but also me the opportunity to express gratitude and thanks for our shared experiences in therapy and to collaboratively close our chapter. A termination session is more important than some clients may realise; research supports that a structured termination process catalyses growth and development by providing an opportunity to reflect upon the therapy journey as well as one’s personal growth through the process.

As Elton John asks, what do we say when it’s all over, it’s a sad, sad situation? Honour it and our emotions with a good, good bye.


* Inspired by the beautifully mournful Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.