Saying "Goodbye" Well

My father passed away on January 16. This monumental event has again reminded me that at some point in life we all move from the season of saying “hello” to the season of saying “goodbye.”

Well into my 40s I was in the “hello” season. Life was filled with meeting many new people and making many new friends. As my career developed, as my wife and I got to know others at church and socially, and as we got to know parents of our children’s friends at school events and sports activities, we were almost overwhelmed by saying hello to so many. That was an exhilarating season, and we made many lifelong friends during those years.

However, within the past decade or so we have, unperceivably, passed to the season of saying “goodbye.” Not that we don’t continue to meet new people and make new friends (just today I met new neighbors who just moved in). Yet more and more we find ourselves saying “goodbye” to those near and dear to us. Five years ago this coming April my wife and I said goodbye to Bethany, our oldest daughter, due to a stroke. Then in November 2015 we said goodbye to Carolyn Nelson, my wife’s mother, who died in a car accident. Most recently we said goodbye to Al Wallace, my father (the obituary I wrote for him is here). And we have said goodbye to many other friends, mentors, and relatives (my tribute to James Sire, a friend and mentor who recently passed, is here).

These times of saying goodbye are increasing at a palpable rate, and have jolted my wife and I into realizing we are now firmly entrenched in the season of saying goodbye. We must embrace this season. But how can we do so well—with grace, truth, peace, and shalom?

I find much is written on saying hello well. It is not hard to find books, websites, and blogs on making a good first impression or how to develop healthy friendships. These guides to saying hello are important. But the silence concerning saying goodbye well is almost deafening.

My hunch is that we live in a culture that is so afraid of death that we simply don’t want to engage its reality. This is a relatively new way of life. A century ago there were no mortuaries. A family members’ body remained in their home for visitation prior to burial. In rural contexts (in which most lived) death was always present as livestock perished or were butchered. And perhaps our faith in modern science has seduced some of us to believe that we may be able to stave off death for at least another decade, as medications and procedures become more and more advanced and effective.

Unfortunately, our avoidance of death leads to us being unprepared when we are face-to-face with its inevitability and reality. We are caught off-guard. As a result, we do not react in ways healthy for us or for those around us. In short, many of us are not prepared to flourish in this coming or already-here season of saying goodbye.

I have concluded that saying goodbye well begins long before the moment we have to do so. There are at least four principles we must understand in order to say goodbye well. I’ll share these principles over the next several weeks. They have been helpful principles for me to reflect upon during the past several months since my father’s passing. I pray they may be helpful to you as well.

Until next week, grace and peace.