It was a rare Saturday morning without kids in the house; the girls were away for a weekend with grandparents. After almost 20 years of marriage, we have learned patience, especially when it comes to prayer. Sometimes prayer leads to immediate clarity, and other times we pray for years before anything shifts. Once we get clarity from God and find unity in our spirits, we know it’s time. It might seem hasty to those outside our home, but for us, God’s timing is always right on time.
His perfect timing has shown up many times in our lives:
Our move from Seattle to Portland.
Starting graduate school.
Starting our practice, Living Wholehearted.
Publishing our first book.
Prior to this particular Saturday, we had been wondering if it was time to leave our current home, even though this is the home we had imagined grandkids coming to visit. For months we danced around the topic, discussing pros and cons — we always landed heavy on the cons. But this Saturday morning, we both woke up with a clarity of mind and tears in our eyes as we realized it was indeed time to go. We did not know where we would be going. Like Abraham, we just heard a message to ‘go.’ Knowing we were ready for the adventure, we shared with our children and learned that they, too, were at peace. It was confirmation. God was up to something big. It was time to say goodbye to this chapter and we wanted to do it well.
Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us that there is a season for everything under the sun. Despite the truth of this verse, we find in our counseling and coaching offices that when a person is not able to have a good, goodbye (between closing one chapter of life and moving on to another), she gets stuck. Being ‘stuck’ can cause emotional gunk to fill the soul, eventually leaking out into life in funky ways. Looking back at 2020, we see how this looks on a larger scale.
2020 has been full of loss and endings without closure.
Think back to March — did anyone have any idea what April through December would look like? No! From memorials to drive-through graduations, cancelled weddings and lonely birthing suites, we have continued moving forward without really getting to say goodbye to what was. With all the loss and change, closure has been fleeting and difficult to grasp.
In healthy systems, we talk, we feel, and we trust.
With its clever design, the brain comes to a place of rest and of calm when we are able to talk about why we loved something. When we tell our hard stories and allow ourselves to feel our emotions, we can move toward acceptance of what is. This is the process that allows us to embrace a new normal. These steps are vital to grieving well, but these are steps that have not been afforded to many within the experiences of 2020.
Regardless of what you have lost this year — a loved one, a home, a job, an education, a college experience, a friendship, a way of life — 2020 has been traumatic for almost everyone and we have a collective need to grieve well, to give the year a good, goodbye.
As we prepare to say goodbye to our home, we are doing this as well. We talk about all the memories we have here. Our realtor had us write a letter to our home, thanking the home for all the memories it gave us. I cried my way through writing it all down. Though it’s just a home, this space has also served as a refuge for us as we have raised our children. It has served as a lodge and retreat, where we have witnessed lives transformed through silence, solitude, and community. This land has hosted marriage retreats, prayer retreats, vision retreats, holiday gatherings, and humble beginnings. At the time I wrote the letter, I wondered if we would experience anything like this in the home ahead. Perhaps you question the same thing about 2021?
Will we ever experience life as it was before 2020?
Will there be joy and reasons to celebrate in 2021 and beyond?
Moving forward, we trust that something good is still ahead (and it is).
Western culture has a difficult time with goodbyes. We tend to ghost people. We stop returning emails, unfriend people who disagree with us, stop showing up to commitments, or just fall away with time and distance. We do a poor job of saying goodbye and lamenting because it is hard, and our culture prefers things that feel good. Many family and organizational systems don’t talk about the issues at hand; they don’t authenticate emotions (especially uncomfortable or negative emotions), and they don’t trust. Often, this pattern leads to unhealthy coping and unhealthy living. We can intentionally change this pattern if we stop to consider our own process of saying goodbye. Take note of any part of the process that tends to be missing in your own experience:
- Talk about the memories, both the good and the bad ones.
- Laugh, cry, and share all the feelings you have about them. Let them come out from your soul so they don’t clog you up with residual gunk.
- Trust that something good lies ahead. Move forward with that trust.
Good, goodbyes help us move forward with closure and freedom, but they don’t just happen naturally. Intentionality and time to pause and reflect are essential to the success of this process. As you wind down the year, consider giving it a good, goodbye. Bring 2020 to a close with discussion, reflection, gratitude, and trust. Remember what you learned this year. Though terribly hard, we have grown muscles from the year that will pay dividends in the future, if we allow them to.
Here are some ideas to consider as you bring closure to your year:
- Acknowledge and name the losses (and gains) from the past year.
- Allow for time to talk, feel, and reflect. Do this with someone you trust or a group of loved ones.
- Create something to tell the story and to remember it: a scrapbook, picture book, a letter, a painting, a garden, a collage.
- Say “goodbye” to 2020 and find your trust. What do you know you can count on? What do you have faith in? Focus on this and hold onto it.
One of the hardest and best things I have learned as a trauma, marriage and family therapist is the importance of having a good, goodbye. I am honored to go deep and share some of the most intimate places with my clients. Then, I say goodbye when the work is done. It can be difficult, for sure, but it is also a necessary part of the healing process. More recently, I have taken a longer sabbatical as I shifted to more writing and executive coaching. This has required even more goodbyes to take place in my day-to-day life. These practices have emphasized to me that ‘goodbye’ is not a bad word in itself. Many goodbyes are necessary, and ultimately bring you closer to the reality of your story. You may even start to see beauty out of the ashes. When you don’t get to choose the goodbye, or it feels forced upon you (like a death, a break up, a job loss, or a COVID-induced closure or cancellation), the goodbye can feel unjust. You can still learn how to have a good, goodbye, regardless of whether it’s your choice or not. We do have the opportunity to bring closure to our own mind, heart, body, and soul, even when it feels like the situation is not within our control. We can model this intentional closure to our children, our colleagues, our friends, our neighbors, our employees, and our extended family, and in so doing, we can help others have good, goodbyes as well.
We move in a couple of weeks and are having our “last” everything: our last Christmas in this space. Our last hosted dinner in this dining room. Our last, lazy Saturday morning walking down to the creek. As we close up the chapter in this home and prepare for the next home, I am thankful for the memories, the time, and the gifts we have had. We are focused on having the best goodbye possible, and will carry on with this moving adventure with as much closure and freedom as possible.
I learned to pivot.
I learned how to lead.
I learned how to cry.
I learned how to grieve.
I learned how to slow down.
I learned how to be bored.
I learned how to zoom.
I learned how to mourn.
I learned how to ask for help.
I learned how to teach.
I learned how to sit down for awhile.
I learned how to preach.
To all the things we had together
I am glad to finally say
Written by Terra A. Mattson, M.A. LMFT, LPC
Co-Founder of Living Wholehearted & Courageous Girls
Counselor/Coach, Author, Co-host of Living Wholehearted Podcast