I say goodbye. A lot. It’s been part of my job for the last 20+ years.
Over this time, I’ve worked with thousands of international students, scholars, wives, couples, and families. Most of them stay in my city for 18 months to two years. It’s like a revolving door to my heart.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. Still, when the time comes to say goodbye, it is almost always bittersweet. And for them, too.
So, I’ve developed some skills in doing this. If I didn’t, I would be a constant puddle of mush. Here are three skills I’ve developed to cope with this reality of my life.
(1) Mark the Occasion.
Whenever possible, I try to meet one-on-one, or in a small group, with those who are leaving. A cup of tea. A lunch. A walk and talk. But, if that cannot happen, I make sure to reach out in some other way. Chatting over the phone? Yes. Acknowledging their imminent departure at one of our monthly gatherings? That’s another way.
This is important. Recognition they are transitioning to something new. But acknowledging the value — almost the sacredness — of the here and now. Demonstrating you really care.
I came up with a lightweight, affordable, but lovely, gift. I use it for those international friends who are leaving our area, and it has proved a hit.
I take the photo collage here, put it in a black mat and sleeve, and present it to them. My husband and I took these pictures of a striking and iconic area in our city. It’s something they can easily carry home and display in their home, if they choose.
(2) Clarify the Channels of Communication:
I try to make sure I have two or more ways to remain in touch. I try to grab an email plus one or two other means.
WhatsApp has become an increasingly useful too. But in some areas of the world, even that is blocked.
We have so many tools at our disposal nowadays to keep in touch in spite of the distance.
The main thing is to try to ascertain with them which channel they expect to use the most. And make note.
(3) Put them on the Calendar:
I keep a revolving list of people who were in my home city and when they left, as well as where I know them to be. It’s not perfect. But by doing this, I am able to keep track, more or less, where people are located. Many of them I expect to see someday when we travel or live abroad.
But even moreso, I make note to check in with them a few months, then six months, then a year after they’ve left my city. It’s imperfect, for sure.
But I try to check in to remind them they are not far from my mind or heart. I often find myself lost in thought as I remember special moments I’ve shared with people now halfway around the world.
So, when I can, I try to remind them they are still on my mind. It can be the simplest of messages. But I know it communicates much more than words.
Sometimes I simply allow a post in Facebook or Instagram to trigger this as well. Or, as I pray, I might find them squarely on my heart for some reason. Then I follow up.
On rare occasions, I’ve actually dreamt about them. When this happens, you bet I’m in touch!
A Striking Insight
Recently, as I went to say goodbye to my Portuguese friend, she made an interesting point. Her husband is in the U.S. military; they have been married just two years.
“Are you ready for this life of moving from here to there?” I queried.
“I’m not sure, but it’s what I’ve chosen. I will find ways,” she assured me.
Then she asked, “How about you? You are not military, but the way you have to always say goodbye, it’s almost as if you are.”
She was right. It’s hard. But I choose to focus on the benefit, not the loss. Therein I find my strength — and build up the skill — to go on.
What are some skills you’ve cultivated to say “goodbye” well?
Visit Caroline at CultureWeave.com.
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