Healthy Goodbyes

Written by Maryann Wiggs

December 14, 2020

Trauma-informed Teaching

Teaching Children How to Say Goodbye

Creating healthy goodbyes is an important learning opportunity throughout the school year. Whether it is separating from our classmates at the end of a school year, a best friend moving away, or a death in the family, every human being will experience grief and loss multiple times. Throughout our lives, we all have to say goodbye to what “was.” 

When it comes to saying goodbye, there are ways that are healthy and ways that are not.  The one “must” with a healthy goodbye is that we actually allow ourselves to grieve. When we rush the process, grief will express itself in unpredictable and unpleasant ways: anger, irritability, denial, depression, and harmful coping strategies. Though grief and loss can be messy, students experiencing the Empowering Minds curriculum have learned a number of techniques that can be used together to create healthy goodbyes.

 

 

Whether it is separating from our classmates at the end of a school year, a best friend moving away, or a death in the family, every human being will experience grief and loss multiple times. Throughout our lives, we all have to say goodbye to what “was.” 

When it comes to saying goodbye, there are ways that are healthy and ways that are not.  The one “must” with a healthy goodbye is that we actually allow ourselves to grieve. When we rush the process, grief will express itself in unpredictable and unpleasant ways: anger, irritability, denial, depression, and harmful coping strategies. Though grief and loss can be messy, students experiencing the Empowering Minds curriculum have learned a number of techniques that can be used together to create healthy goodbyes.

1. Taking Space

Every lesson in the Empowering Minds curriculum begins with making space through the practice of ‘Taking a Mindful Moment.’ Why?  To ‘take space’ as we enter into one of life’s many new lessons or experiences means that we are preparing ourselves to fully be present for the mind-body change or transition that is taking place.  

Taking a Mindful Moment by sitting in silence or by walking in the fresh air outdoors. Mindfulness allows us to calm our central nervous system as we slowly breathe in and out. This calmness provides a pathway to communicate openly with our heart and helps us to better focus our attention on the present moment. Do you have a preferred mindfulness practice? 

Taking space when grieving a loss is not a single event, rather it is a practice we come back to often as we begin to heal our aching heart. This takes as long as it takes. There is no time limit on saying goodbye. Taking space for ourselves and allowing others time to take space is a compassionate act.

2. Name Your Emotions

Saying goodbye often elicits strong emotions, e.g. anger, fear, sadness, confusion, relief, excitement, or even a mixture of several emotions all at once. We have learned how to foster our ability to recognize and name emotions during the formulating ‘I-Statements’ lesson.  By naming our emotions we bring conscious awareness to our experience. One of the reasons the I-Statement is so useful is because it lets us share our feelings in a calm way and helps us to understand the connection between events, thoughts, and emotions. 

Whether solving a conflict or saying goodbyes, when we know the true name of our emotions and the reason behind our emotions, it will help normalize and draw attention to the universality of the experience.  An I-Statement consists of 3 parts: I feel ____(emotion)_____ when_____(event)_____ because _____ (thought about the event) _________. 

3. Savor the Good Memories

When we experience the loss of someone or something we cherished, it is important to honor and remember the good by sharing positive memories. What was your favorite thing about this person? What is something you learned from being part of a team even though the season has ended? What will you miss the most? Savoring the good memories can take the form of journaling, letter writing, sharing privately with someone you trust or on social media. Creating a picture album or putting together favorite music collections can serve as a reminder of what the relationship meant to you.  Sometimes saving a shared or special object can be a great reminder of positive memories and another example of a healthy goodbye. That said, it is equally important to acknowledge the parts of the relationship that were challenging or difficult.  What lessons did you both learn?

4. Practice Gratitude

Did you know that expressing gratitude can make you happier?  That’s right! People who express gratitude – even if it is just to themselves – are happier people overall. This means that if you are having a hard time saying goodbye to someone or something, expressing gratitude is likely to improve your outlook on the situation. 

A simple gratitude statement goes something like this: “One thing I am grateful for is _____________ because_____________.”  You might also want to write a gratitude letter reflecting on what you learned from the person you are losing and how you benefited from the experience of knowing them. Recall specific life lessons or experiences that you will never forget.  Your letter may be shared with the person you are losing or treasured privately. Words have power.  The act of speaking or expressing gratitude is uplifting.

5. Create a Ritual

Many cultures have traditions that bring people together to honor and remember lives that have been lost. Celebrations of Life and funerals are two examples of public opportunities to experience shared grief. Such ceremonies help us to heal, serve as a way to collectively say goodbye, and officially mark an ending.  Organizations and teams also have special ceremonies to mark the ending of a project or season.  Recall the Olympics have both an opening and a closing ceremony. Such ceremonies or rituals are important in terms of clearly defining the ending of one event and the beginning of a new chapter. 

When you have lost someone or something, what ritual might you create?  It can be as simple as placing an empty chair at the Thanksgiving table for the person we lost or hiking a favorite trail on the anniversary of the persons passing.  If someone special has moved away, what new ritual will you start to stay connected?  Rituals move us forward.

 

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Written by

Maryann Wiggs

Maryann has over four decades of experience in education. She is the founder of Educational Performance Consulting, providing engaging seminars and workshops on a wide range of educational topics both locally and nationally. She is the author of five books on understanding and implementing standards-based educational practices and former Assistant Superintendent and Executive Director in two Colorado school districts.

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