How to say goodbye.


Sometimes I write things with the clearest picture in my mind of who I am writing them for. It’s like I can see you. You, with the red lipstick that you just got confident enough to start wearing. You, the one who doesn’t really understand the unique thing that people see you to be. I can see you sitting there. Reading me. And I search the ground, sort of like an Easter egg hunt, for the things I think you’d want to read.

And then sometimes I write something just so that I can go back and read it. Maybe once. Maybe twice. I write the words for myself, pretending that someone else is writing them for me. I do this strategically. I do this so that I don’t have to feel like the one who is alone– her hands full of unanswered questions– in the middle of something I don’t fully understand.


Goodbye is one of those things.

One of those things I don’t fully understand yet. I’m no good at it. I’d rather not go there. I’d find it better to beeline the whole entire thing. I don’t want to miss people. I don’t want to know they are growing in my absence.

That’s the secret pain of goodbye: people still have the permission to grow into their own skin without you. And that feels very strange. And I’m tempted to just say, “No, you can’t. Please. Just don’t. Just stay as you are.” But that’s selfish. You don’t get to keep people, selfishly, just so you don’t have to be so fearful they’ll find a way to live without you.

The only thing I know for certain about this whole “goodbye” thing? You have to say it sometimes. You have to get real brave, and bite your bottom lip, and let people go sometimes. Fully, fully. Even when you don’t feel ready.


They always make the point of goodbye seem so romantic on the television.

Someone is always waiting by the terminal. Someone is always asking you to stay, hurdling suitcases so that they can clutch your face. I used watch Dawson’s Creek and imagine I’d get to have all the long, grueling departures one day, just like Joey Potter. I thought that would be the real golden duck of adulthood– when people found it terribly hard to release me.

It isn’t. And Joey Potter should have just been honest and told us all the truth, “Goodbyes suck. And there’s no eloquent way to say that. There is no poetic way to talk about ugly crying on someone’s nice shirt. There is nothing in the moment that makes walking away seem reasonable. It’s just hard.” And you awkwardly just sort of hope that someone will tell you not to go. Because maybe you would listen to them. Maybe a big white poster board with the letters “STAY” written in black Sharpie would convince you to do just that. Just stay. For little while longer.

Because goodbye is hard. Goodbye is the starting point you don’t see because the finish line is so piled high with tears and last words and fears that this– this thing you have right here– will never be the same. Don’t fear that. Don’t fear that because it’s already true. It won’t ever be the same. It could be over. It could be final. But it could be better than the two of you could ever predict. That could happen too.

And yes, it feels like something in the room is dead or dying or about to die. And the scary thing about that? That’s already true too.

Something is dying. We can’t even ignore it. It sounds so morbid but goodbye is really just admitting that something is dying. You two came together– for a month or for a year or for five of those years– and you built something. You breathed your whole little life into that thing. Your secrets. Your fears. Your laughter. All into that thing. That friendship thing, that “I’ve never really met someone like you” sort of thing. And then, out of nowhere, it feels like something comes along and lobs the whole thing into pieces. That’s what a goodbye will do.

Goodbye is the fear– temporary and real– that we’ve carried for years up until that one word– short & stout– made it all tip over and all pour out: I am afraid to leave. I am afraid to change. Can you just keep me here? Can we never move? I’m afraid you will forget me. I’m afraid I’ll be forgotten in a room full of people who always seem to be remembered.

When I stood at the door to say goodbye, I muddied up the whole thing.

I let the fear speak louder than the genuine thing inside of me that knew goodbye was the only road to take.

“I hate goodbyes,” I told her. “I’m sorry. I’m just so bad at them. I wish they didn’t exist. I want to be like an octupus who has 8 arms and can just hold onto everything always. I wish I could just go in the night.” It was all my fears and insecurities that I would never have it this good again, all mounted and stored up inside of that word.

She stopped me. “It’s goodbye,” she said. “And then you get over it.”

That’s all she said before she pulled me in for a hug. And then she let me go. And everything about her gesture of letting me go so quickly– nearly like a band-aid you rip off and pretend there is no sting– seemed to hum the truth:

You, I believe in you. That is why I am so quick to let you go. Trust me, trust me, the human thing inside of me wants to keep you right here. Right where I can see your eyes and I can hold your hand. But even if you can’t see it, I can see it and I can ignore it no longer: you are ready. It is time. If I held you back, I’d be the one doing a disservice to the parts of this world that so deserve the blessing of “you” for a little while.

So cry your tears. And say your last words. And when you are emptied out, let me go. Please let me go. Don’t live in your memories, making tents and tiny houses out of the way we used to be. Something really wonderful awaits you. I need you to step inside of it.  Say goodbye because something new is about to start right here.

And me? Well I’ll carry the thought of you doing just fine. I’ll carry the thought of you meeting new people, and holding new pairs of hands, and clutching people closer than you ever clutched me. I’ll remember that when you came to me it was a blessing. A temporary blessing that we’ll one day see if we can make permanent. But for now, it’s you and all the little lives you’ve got to go out there and touch.

You’re ready. That’s why I’m letting you go. And everyone else? Everyone else who gets you for this next little “I’ll see you everyday” sort of while? They win. I don’t feel like much of a winner in this moment, but them? They absolutely win.

44 thoughts on “How to say goodbye.

  1. Just what I needed to hear today. Just quit my job and my best friend announced she is moving away. Crazy! But sometimes goodbyes can be exciting fresh beginnings. 🙂

  2. I grew up moving from state to state, and since college I’ve moved four times. I think I’ve grown practiced at goodbye, but it still stings. Thanks for putting it into words.

  3. I love this, I get everything and to be honest I needed to read something like this today… goodbye is not the finish line, the bottom of the hill or last chapter…. there is always going to be a little snippet of the next book, a glimpse at a new adventure. Without goodbye there wouldn’t be a glorious hello.

  4. Last night I dreamed that you posted a new blog entry. Then today this bit of gold showed up in my inbox and it was addressed to me – right from the girl finally handling red lipstick until the very end. Thanks for being such a blessing. Many hugs!!



  5. You made me cry Hannah! You certainly have a way with words. I never really unpacked all that saying goodbye entailed but you nailed it. I hope to visit you someday. God is going to continue to use you in a powerful way. So proud of you! Keep allowing Him to mold you. You demonstrate to the world how beautiful life is when we allow Him access to our lives.

  6. Me. You wrote this for me, and I so needed to read these words. On behalf of all of the “Me”s who will respond to this post, Thank you.

  7. You’re an exceptional writer. One of the best writers I’ve come across on the internet.
    And I totally do the same thing. Sometimes, I just write for myself.

  8. I will save this for when my daughter leaves for college, a moment that thrills me with its possibilities for her life and terrifies me with the loss for mine. Thank you!

  9. I’m much too excited to hear of your next set of adventures to ask you to stay. Can’t wait for all that is yet to come!!

    Some people cross your path and you never ever forget them; You’re that person, my sweet friend!

  10. My oldest daughter is graduating High School in less than a week and this mornings message is exactly what I needed to hear..

  11. Hanna, thanks for posting this! It’s exactly what I needed to here today… it’s been a rough couple months and this has enlightened me and helped to push me to keep going! So thank you again, Hannah and God bless you!

  12. I’m saying goodbye to someone today…this was definitely something I needed to read before doing that. Thank you!

  13. Hannah,

    Your emails and blog post always seem to come at just the right time. I know you hear that time, and time again. What I am about to say is a whirlwind, so please don’t mind the word vomit. But this one cut close to my heart… I felt the blade in my sternum and start twist, just as I remembered it was all in my mind.

    My mind, as is everyone’s, is a powerful monster. He know’s all of the right things to say to build me up and all of the right things to say to tear me back down. The trouble with my mind, are the goodbyes… I am the one who loves all people, I try to be so kind and see the good in everyone. Even if we are to say goodbye or until we meet again, I always hold on to the thought of coming back. To a time where laughter wasn’t so hard… Where lives didn’t pull us in different directions. And I honestly, never say goodbye to someone I once loved… Call me crazy but I wish to see them happy, I really do… However, it breaks my heart all over again to see them happy with someone else- right in front of me.

    I just want to be able to look at them and in my mind say- You really are happy. Good for you. Instead I tear myself up and down. “What does she have that I don’t” “is she taller, thinner, smarter? Does he just want her for that one thing, or is it real?” I know the whole time that is has nothing to do with me. It just hurts, because I try so hard to make others happy, and it seems, so often I don’t see the return.

    However, this last time. Just a day or two ago. Someone from my past, whom I haven’t spoken to in years and had ripped me open walked back into my life… at my birthday party. He was not there for me, despite what is depicted in the movies, he was there for my roommate. A friend I have known for some number of year, yet were not close enough to know each others life stories. I was hurt. What made things worse, was him flirting with her and coming home and staying in her bed that night. Girl, let me tell you… my heart ripped open once again.

    I need to know how to say goodbye, and mean it.. To detach all of those feelings and to stop thinking there could be a one day. Done, one word that can translate the same in most languages, done. But it is hard, Hannah darling. I know you know that just as the next girl does.

    But seriously, how does one heal the broken goodbye?

    Sincerely, The girl who doesn’t know when to quite, Kristina

  14. At the end of February, the day before the Oscars, I logged onto Facebook and I found out the guy I have been in love with for six years had found somebody else and asked her to marry him. Naturally, I was devastated, I cried for two weeks especially at night when I was in bed and a sad song came on an 8tracks playlist I was listening to. The past few months, I have been struggling to say goodbye to him in my head. Every time I think I do, he knocks on my heart again and says “but we’re not finished yet” even though we so obviously are. He sits there, like a scab that you pick and scratch at until it bleeds but it never heals. I tell myself to live by what Dr. Seuss said. Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. I try and live by Katie Herzig’s song Wish You Well, but I struggle with wishing him well because I wanted him, I wanted him SO badly.

    This post, this post is what I needed to say goodbye.

    Thank you for posting it Hannah.

  15. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about goodbyes recently. I started reading Kisses from Katie this week and have been focusing a lot on helping some friends of mine gear up for a summer of fundraising and a big move to Uganda next year. These people are my non-blood family. They’re about as close as friends can get – top tier, inner circle, all that jazz. Reading this book has made me a mess over them leaving next year because they are such an integral part of my life and have been one of the only consistencies in my life since returning home last July. It’s heartbreaking to think they’ll be an ocean away, but I’m so thrilled to see God move in huge ways through them. What a wild, blessed, and painful next year this will be. Thanks for being raw about goodbyes. Perfect.

  16. I just wanted to say thank you, Hannah. I am graduating from high school in just under a month, and I’ve been struggling with the finality of it. My group of friends are splitting up for the most part, and going our own separate ways for the first time in our lives. I’ve been having an issue about letting go and saying goodbye. Your article sincerely helped me try to look at it a new way. So, thank you!

  17. I truly enjoy your writing and I especially want to say thank you for this one. It might not be what you were aiming at when you wrote this but….my oldest is graduating in a month and so many of your words resonated with me. It hurts, like literally in my chest hurts, to know he’ll go on and learn to live…no not just live, flourish without me. But I know that’s selfish, that’s what he’s suppose to do. I mean he’s already been doing it, and it’s awesome and wonderful. So many new things await him and I love what you said about “everyone else”. Because all the ‘everyone else’s’ that get to meet him are going to absolutely “win”! For now, I see a lot of lip biting and attempts at bravery in my near future. But thank you for this! By doing that thing that you uniquely do…you’ve made it a bit easier.

  18. I’ve spent the last few days constantly checking to see if you had written again. Each time feeling frustrating as nothing new showed. But this is the pearl I had just been waiting for and it was worth the wait.

    It couldn’t be more applicable to me today. It’s as though you’ve been a fly on my wall, or even more so in my head, for the past week. So thank you Hannah for spelling out what I’ve been struggling to make sense of.

    I will now patiently awake your next post

  19. My jaw dropped to the floor as I read this. I swear you’re a fly on my wall and personalize each post to me, myself and I. I’ve had the hardest time letting go lately. It’s always been difficult for me, but it seems that everything around me is changing so fast and I’m scrambling for someone to hold on to. Trying to find some sort of consistency in my life. Here recently I’ve been trying to find it in a male. Is there not an off button for that?

    I DISLIKE goodbyes with a sincere passion. Sometimes I feel so silly writing to you about my minute problems in the grand scheme of things as I listen to the worlds smallest violin playing in the background. But I still can’t get past a goodbye that happened a year and a half ago. I just can’t shake it. I’m gonna have to up my prayer dosage on this one.

    Maybe it’s because I forgive at the drop of a hat. You could call me every in the book or lie to me with the straightest face you can put on. I’d still forgive you. Or you could leave me bawling at my doorstep as you drive away after giving me false hopes of ever seeing you again. I can’t stay angry at anyone. The love in my heart always overrides the so called crime that was committed so wrongfully against me.

    Hope you had a *fab* hump day[?] AG.

  20. How Ironic….this comes this morning…. today I sit down to discuss a possible Goodbye with the first man I said “I Love You” too after my husband of 30 years passed away. I find out today if all that pain of loneliness rushes back in. I’ll read the article a few more times and I know it will help. Thank You

  21. Hannah, how do you say goodbye to the way you used to be? How do you say goodbye to all that familiar pain, the kind you know how to deal with? How do you leave a place or a state of mind that you’ve been in for most of your life? I hate how attached I am to my own pain, to the father who is childish and the brother who belittles and thinks poorly of me. I want to move away and leave, but I feel like there are too many strings attached. Do you have any advice?

  22. Thank you so much for this. We’ve been there, and we’re all still waiting to experience it all again at some point. And it never gets easier.

  23. thank you for this beautiful post … the timing in my life is perfect and i will continue to read this daily until i am healed.

    God Bless you! xox

  24. Dear Hannah,
    Thank you – again – for writing exactly what I need to hear, exactly when I need to hear it. I’ve been trying, unsuccessful, to say goodbye to someone for years. YEARS. I am so afraid of the “what ifs,” and I so believe all the excuses, all his reasons for not being able to be with me fully, but not being willing to let me go either. What I’ve said to him several times is this: “I need you to love me enough to let me go.” But reading these words of yours, it suddenly hit me: Why am I putting the power in his hands? Maybe because I’m too afraid to do it myself. What I should be saying – to myself – is this: “Love yourself enough to let go of him.” And so with renewed spirit, I will try.

  25. I’ve moved a lot as a child. I guess I got used to saying goodbye. I try not to make attachments, not on purpose.. Just a defense mechanism. Now it’s starting to hurt. It’s unfortunate but a part of life.

  26. What’s harder than goodbyes? Hellos. You take all of your anticipation and sadness from the goodbye, and you multiply it as time goes on, until the day finally comes when you’re reunited, and you’ve created a god in your memory. As it turns out, they’re just the funny yet sloppy guy or intelligent yet bossy girl you knew from back then.

  27. Thank you so much for writing this; I needed this. I’ve tried to figure out goodbyes. I’ve tried to make them less painful. But tomorrow, I have to say goodbye to my best friend. I tried to ignore my feelings for the longest time, but a few days ago, I broke down and cried. Then, reading this, I cried again. Tomorrow, I will cry. There’s no way around that. There’s no way for me to completely accept this goodbye. But your last paragraph speaks so much truth; that’s exactly how I feel, and your words make me feel less alone, even when goodbyes make me feel lonely. Thank you, once again. Your words are packed with so much power and they really help me come to terms with how I feel.

  28. Tomorrow I have to say goodbye to my best friend. For a while, I tried to ignore my feelings, but a few days ago, I broke down and cried. Reading this, I cried. Tomorrow, I will cry. There’s no way around that. There’s no way around this goodbye or how I will feel in result. Your last paragraph speaks so much truth and encompasses exactly how I feel. Thank you for writing this. I feel less alone now, even though tomorrow’s goodbye will leave me feeling lonely.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s