Understanding how to say goodbye is a part of life. So why does the final moment fill us with fear and dread? Here’s how to say adieu without falling into guilt, pain and nagging self-doubt


People leave but they don’t say goodbye. People say goodbye but they don’t leave.

When it comes to leaving a relationship, this well-known proverb can often ring loud and true. Some people say goodbye, but even though they are no longer with us, something of their presence lingers. We are all aware of that scenario: a relationship that is apparently over and yet some vestige remains either in the form of a love that just won’t fade – or we wilfully wish to keep it alive despite the fact the lover might have gone. Or, we move house and yet we still yearn for the home we left behind.

It’s not easy to let things go.

Yet we do have a choice when it comes to leaving. Those who find it difficult tend to go abruptly – they leave without saying goodbye. You come home and they’ve vanished. Or there’s a farewell text and not much more. Some people can only cope with the pain and guilt of leaving by cutting off completely and blocking the person in every way possible – social media, phone calls, emails. is is all about fear. By cutting off abruptly, you face no recriminations. You don’t have to hear what the other person has to say. It’s mostly done to avoid difficult and deep feelings.

Avoiding saying goodbye is about trying to avoid the feeling of loss.

When we make the decision to move, we fear the loss of our previous life, the home we lived in, or the friends we once had there. But there are ways to say goodbye – to lovers, friends, homes, social connections – that can be honest and less painful.

One way is to show gratitude for that relationship, to honour what you have learned from that person, to open yourself up to the pain of saying goodbye whilst knowing you are both learning a life lesson in the process.


If we put in to words our feelings about the importance of what we had and what we are losing, we are far more able to come to terms with that loss. When we don’t say goodbye, we are often left with unresolved feelings that can take over. What if we’d stayed? Did that person really love us? Have we made a rash decision?

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin were roundly drubbed by the media when they announced they were “consciously uncoupling” – a phrase that’s still a punchline on the comedy circuit. Yet Gwyneth and Chris had a point. They decided to leave their relationship with respect and decency. “Conscious uncoupling” is about being utterly aware of what you are doing and also giving the person you once loved a sense of being valid. In many ways, it’s about being mindful.

Open yourself up to the pain of saying goodbye whilst knowing you are learning a life lesson

If we try to put “the good” of people central in our lives – which is a lot better than not doing that – then leaving in a mindful way is possible, however painful.

If we leave in a hurry, scurrying on to the next thing, we don’t have time to absorb what we had. It’s as if we consign things to the dustbin without giving them any recognition.

In a fast-paced world, this happens often. We embrace our social contacts and then reject them as if they have no meaning for us. But most of us spend our entire adult lives trying to find a meaning to absence.

This is different when it comes to someone who is dying. There is no choice. But, again, being mindful of what that person needs from you is of the utmost importance.


We should think about how we wish to remember them. I don’t think we need to clear out everything from our lives that reminds us of that person – the person who has passed or the person who has moved on. I am a great fan of nostalgia. I like to remember what has been. I like to have small memories of the people I have loved. I don’t want to obliterate everything and move onwards and upwards without a backwards glance. For me, people, places and objects have meaning.

However, I don’t attach so much importance to them that I feel held back or emotionally tied down.

We all have previous lives and loves. We have all lost old lives, friends and homes, as well as partners and lovers. It’s important to admit this, accept it, and make it an acknowledged part of our past. It’s not easy. It’s far easier to cut and run (and then maybe vilify) but that might leave a person living with a deepening sense of regret and anger which can turn very toxic.

We’ve all met a divorced person who is still, somehow, hanging on to the bitterness of their marriage ending. That bitterness can last years, even decades. It’s very difficult to move on if you haven’t accepted and understood what the ending is about. And yet, in order to live a full, happy and emotionally-healthy life, it’s the only way forward.