Life 101: How to Say Goodbye
Life 101 is a monthly series delving into real-world topics with the help of Endicott College faculty and staff expertise. This is the fifth and final piece in this year’s series.
Commencement is here. The boxes are packed, ready to be loaded up into the back of a car or U-Haul, and headed to your next destination in life.
It’s scary, exhilarating, and bittersweet—after all, how can you say goodbye to your favorite people?
Though your college years might be incredible, life doesn’t end after graduation, nor does it go from technicolor to the black-and-white monotony of one endless work week after another.
Life is filled with goodbyes—whether planned or unexpected–—and humans are equipped to cope.
Researchers Schwörer, Krott, and Oettingen (2020) conducted seven distinct studies on saying goodbye and concluded that when we have the chance to say goodbye, we gain a sense of closure and shift more smoothly into our next life chapter, with fewer regrets.
So, it’s better to mark a goodbye—say, before graduating college or breaking up with a partner—in a meaningful way, rather than shying away from the sting of something wonderful ending. As the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
Similarly, Distinguished Professor of Psychology John Kelley cautions that you shouldn’t avoid getting emotionally caught up in things that you know will eventually end. He advises looking towards the future and setting out to make your next chapter in life remarkable in its own way, rather than wallowing in the pain of “leave-taking” for too long.
“Part of what is hard about goodbyes is that, from a psychological standpoint, they signify a loss of omni-potentiality—it’s a sense that there are so many different pathways you could have gone down and you chose one. You’ll never be able to travel back in time to the beginning and relive this time again,” he said.
In Kelley’s own life, he feels this sense of nostalgia when he sees his grown daughters and remembers them as babies. “It’s both incredibly joyful and incredibly sad all at once,” he acknowledged.
Sometimes, such as after the loss of a job or loved one, saying goodbye is a bit more complicated. When the time is right, Kelley advises taking a moment to celebrate how you came through on the other side, and what you learned when it comes to fighting adversity and adapting to challenging circumstances. “It’s a way of reframing,” he said.
The beauty of that approach is knowing that whatever life throws at you next, whatever hard goodbyes are up ahead, you are already equipped with the tools to handle them and keep living.
“Many of my colleagues are researching mindset. In that way of thinking, following a goodbye like a graduation, for example, you can tailspin into a depression. Or you can acknowledge that you’re sad because you had a wonderful time and will miss a lot of people but you can also focus on what you look forward to in the future,” Kelley said.
And also know that even though it feels like you’ll never see certain folks again, they are usually just one email, Zoom, or plane ride away.
Kelley thinks it’s “amazing” when he hears from students he taught a decade ago who still value and remember his classes. He continues actively writing letters of recommendation or offering career advice to many former students.
“Professors are always here to help you in your future,” he said.
That alone is a huge comfort.
For our recent graduates, don’t worry! Endicott’s Alumni Relations will be in touch about future Reunion Weekends and offers various ways to stay connected to Endicott and fellow Gulls.
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