Endings and how to manage them

Nov 27, 2017

People leave but they don’t say goodbye. Sometimes people say goodbye but they don’t leave.

When it comes to leaving relationships, the above statements can often ring true. Some people say goodbye and, even though they are no longer with us, something of their presence lingers. We are all aware of that scenario; a relationship that is apparently over and yet some vestige remains either in the form of a love that just will not fade – or we wilfully wish to keep alive despite the fact the lover might have gone. We move house and yet we still yearn for the home we left behind. It’s not easy to let things go.

Yet we have a choice when it comes to leaving. Those who find it difficult tend to go abruptly – they leave without saying goodbye. You come home and they’ve gone. Or there’s a farewell text and not much more. Some people can only cope with the pain and guilt of leaving by cutting off completely, blocking the person in every way possible – social media, calls, e-mails. This is all about fear. By cutting off you face no recriminations. You don’t have to hear what the other person has to say. It’s mostly done to avoid difficult and deep feelings.

Avoiding saying goodbye is about trying to avoid the feeling of loss. When we make the decision to move, we fear the loss of our previous life, the home we lived in, the friends we had there.

For there are ways to say goodbye – to lovers, friends, homes, social connections – that can be honest and less painful. One way is to show gratitude for that relationship, to honour what you have learned from that person, to open yourself up to the pain of saying goodbye whilst knowing you are both learning a life lesson in the process. If we put in to words our feelings about the importance of what we had and what we are losing, we are far more able to come to terms with that loss. When we don’t say goodbye, we are often left with unresolved feelings that can take over. What if we’d stayed? Did that person really love us?

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin were rounded on when they announced they were ‘consciously uncoupling’ yet they had a point. They decided to leave their relationship with respect and decency. ‘Conscious uncoupling’ is about being utterly aware of what you are doing and also giving the person you once loved a sense of being valid.

In many ways it is about being mindful. If we try to put the good of people central in our lives – which is a lot better than not doing that – then leaving in a mindful way is possible however painful. If we leave in a hurry, scurrying on to the next thing, we don’t have time to absorb what we had. It’s as if we consign things to the dustbin without giving them any recognition. In a fast-paced world, this happens often. We embrace our social contacts and then reject them as if they have no meaning for us.

But most of us spend our entire adult lives trying to find a meaning to it.

This is different when it comes to someone who is dying. There is no choice in this. But, again, being mindful of what that person needs from you is of the utmost importance. Then think about how you wish to remember them.

I don’t think we need to clear out everything from our lives that reminds us of that person – the person who has passed or the person who has moved on. I am a great fan of nostalgia. I like to remember what has been. I like to have small memories of the people I have loved. I don’t want to obliterate everything and move onwards and upwards without a backwards glance. For me, people, places and things have meaning. However, I don’t attach so much importance to them that I feel held back or emotionally tied down.

We all have previous lives and loves. We have all lost old lives and friends and homes as well as partners and lovers. It is important to admit this and accept it and make it an acknowledged part of our past.

It’s not easy. It’s much easier to cut and run and then maybe vilify but that might leave a person living with a deepening sense of regret and anger which can turn very toxic. We’ve all met a divorced person who is still, somehow, hanging on to the bitterness of the ending maybe even decades later. It is very difficult to move on if you haven’t accepted and understood what the ending is about and yet, in order to live a full and happy, emotionally-healthy life, it’s the only way.