When you don’t want to say goodbye

But you have to…

What are you not saying goodbye to?

These last few weeks I said the most difficult goodbye of my life as I watched my father’s health fade and he passed on to the next chapter in his life.

I have to say that despite the cold hard facts, that he was 87 and that he had a myriad of significant health problems, I had a difficult time adjusting to the reality. I sometimes avoided it, ignored it, denied it, grew angry by it yet ultimately had to accept it. And I was forced to say my goodbyes.

This time, it was the final time. And I must admit I was heartbroken over the experience. I am forever changed. But this podcast is not a tribute to him per se, that would require my feelings not quite being so raw, to give him the accolades he deserved, as he was my dad, who shaped me, and my hero.

However, this situation made me think about the times in our lives when we have to say goodbye. And how we approach them. And I mean there are so many.

Goodbyes defined, are used to express good wishes when parting or the end of a conversation. To the most perfunctory– the walking out the door at the beginning of our day, or hanging up the phone, exiting a remote meeting. Where its mindless, no real effort, no reflection. It’s automatic and easy.

To the much more significant– saying so long to friendships that no longer serve us or leaving jobs or roles that are holding us back.

From brief, hasty and fleeting to the more careful, thorough, exhaustive, and sorrowful.

Yes, so many ways to say goodbye.

So of course, my brain has been spinning as I think about the lessons here. And sometimes, our reluctance to say goodbye. I was reluctant with my dad….and as the months passed, I saw the inevitability—I couldn’t get myself to go there. I was solidly in denial. For fear, for pain, for grief, my own selfishness, my hope.

You know those grief stages? By Elizabeth Kubler Ross?  She was a Swiss-American psychiatrist and pioneer in death studies, I discovered her in college. Her internationally best selling book, On Death and Dying (1969) identified the 5 stages of grief.

Ironically, I’ve used these too in change leadership classes, as many of the stages are relevant as well for how we go through change personally or professionally.

Denial, resistance, exploration, and acceptance? We go through them all not only when we are grieving, but when we are changing and evolving.

And as you consider your life in its current state. What goodbyes are there left unsaid? And more importantly, what’s holding you back? Are there relationships that you are reluctant to end or a role you’re unwilling to let go of? Are you afraid to say farewell? And if so, why?

Are you in denial about the state of affairs? I know I was for so long with dad. Not wanting to admit that the end was coming.  But I’ve been before with relationships that were ending, or that jobs that weren’t satisfying.  That I needed to leave.

And ironically, denial is the stage that can initially help you survive the change.  Whether the loss of someone, or your identify, your role. It means feelings are coming to the surface. And once they do, you can do something with them.

Which brings us next to anger and this is an interesting one, because where or who is the target of the anger. In a job is it others, or is it you for not setting boundaries of whatever is creating the dissatisfaction? Feeling stuck and unfulfilled? Or by someone else’s expectation of you?

As you reach the exploration stage…it’s about opening yourself up to the possibility.  Yes it will be hard, and there will be lose, but also you may start considering the gains.  How will you benefit from the goodbye? This stage moves you forward.

I think back to a few of my tougher goodbyes.  One professional when I was in a comfortable, secure, and successful organization.  I was in a leadership role making good money, excellent benefits. So much security. And in so many ways, I was so unhappy.

But why leave? And at one point one of my employees, who had aspirations of working in organizational development asked me if I was happy and wouldn’t I be happier in another or different role.  I was aghast.  How could she even suggest it! Walk away from this role I’d spent years securing? But once the door was open, the denial, the anger, I felt the possibilities emerge. And I knew I could be happier. I knew that the security and money didn’t matter as much as fulfillment. And I was ready to go. With no looking back, and no regrets. Ever since.

I’ve been there too in relationships. Professional and personal. Not letting go when I knew that it was time. My commitment, my strong level of perseverance—which to me is a strength, but in these areas kept me stuck way to long for my own health and happiness.  I just couldn’t walk away.

And this is the saying goodbye. The willingness to acknowledge the time is right, and the knowing that the time is never right is it?

So my question for you today is this.  Is there a goodbye you’re reluctant to say, but you know it needs to be said.  Not that you have to say it, but merely explore it so you make a conscious choice. For now. Be open to examining your mindset and how your choice is affecting you.

Because I know too, when I’ve worked through the anger and the depression, there is a light out there. No matter how distant, I start to move towards it. And I find some peace.

Goodbye dad.