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Readings: “Reluctant Goodbyes

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I hate goodbyes. I hate everything about them. It bothers me that “goodbye” isn’t really what I think we most often want to say.

When those I love leave me, or I leave them, goodbye isn’t what I want to say. I want to tell them that their warm hand on my cheek, which caught my desperate tears, made me feel whole once again. I want to tell them that without their quick giggle and tender words, my life can feel lonely. But no—instead I tell them, “I love you,” give them a big hug, and say goodbye. And they leave and I leave. I feel hollow, discontented, and sometimes lost. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

When those I am in conflict with leave or I leave them, goodbye isn’t what I want to say. I want to talk about pieces of me that are torn, scratched, and fragmented because of our interchanges. I want to tell them that maybe, just maybe, I’ve learned something new: in how to be, in how to live, in how to grow. I wonder why it got so complicated and sticky. But no—instead we say with fortitude, “Goodbye.” I may shake their hand, glad that I won’t have to see them again. But there is so much unsaid, and goodbye doesn’t skim the root of my feelings. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

When time whispers to me, “Move on, here’s the next step, say goodbye,” I watch as my son walks into his first day of kindergarten, confident, filled with anticipation. These are my people, my life, he is thinking.

“Bye, mom,” he yells to me and signs love. I sign back.

“Bye,” I whisper. But goodbye isn’t what I want to say. I want to tell him that he is remarkable, brave, that I need more time to adjust to his boyhood, his self-assurance, his friends. I need more time to let go of one more tiny sliver of him. But no—instead I say goodbye. I feel jolted, awakened to time moving forward without me. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

When someone I love dies, goodbye isn’t what I want to say. I want to tell them the truth about us. I want to set it straight. Get to what was real. That their words could hurt, that I wasn’t as strong as they’d hoped, that I still struggle to forgive them. At the same time, I want to tell them that their love made life easier, freer, more accessible. That I’m grateful for their presence. I want to tell them that I forgive them for being human, hoping they did the same for me. But no—instead we say “goodbye” at a memorial service. And I feel captured in a storm of emotions that violently swirl me around. I didn’t want to say goodbye.

When life turns to me someday and says, “Say goodbye,” goodbye isn’t what I want to say. I’ll say, “I’ve said ‘Goodbye’ my whole life, let me say it right, now. Just let me say it right.” But life’s hands will close around me, ushering me to something new. It will be the only time where “goodbye” was what I needed to say.


Singing in the Night: Collected Meditations, Vol. 5 edited by Mary Benard. Skinner House, 2004.

Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship. Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author.

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Last updated on Tuesday, February 26, 2013.

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