By Lisa Schrad

How to Say Goodbye Well

I’ve said my fair share of goodbyes throughout my life.

My college was over 500 miles from my home in Michigan. My closest friends there were from New Hampshire, New York, and North Carolina, and none of them had plans to move to the Midwest. A year after I graduated, I said goodbye to the town I’d grown up in for a job in the Chicago suburbs. A job change several years later took me away from Illinois to Wisconsin. And several years after that I said goodbye to the community there — one that I deeply loved and that shaped me significantly — to pursue grad school in Indiana.

I’ve learned that goodbyes don’t get any easier. Even in a world as digitally connected as ours, there’s no substitute for living in the same general location as close friends and family. The good news is that we can learn to navigate goodbyes with wisdom and grace and allow them to shape us for the journey ahead. Here are a few lessons I’ve discovered.

1. Allow yourself to grieve

If you’ve recently graduated, you might be thinking, Why am I feeling so sad about saying goodbye to people? We can still keep in touch! We can talk every week! Text every day! Carrying on the friendship after graduation won’t be that different . . . Except for all the ways it will be entirely different.

Living in proximity with others your age is a unique experience and a special season. So even if you plan to talk daily with your best friend from college, your relationship will change. You’ll no longer have a place in common. You’ll no longer know many of the same people. Jobs and other responsibilities can make it hard to find a slot in the week to connect.

It’s good and natural and important to grieve these changes. Try not to bury your sadness or anger or disappointment. Acknowledge what you’re losing, what you’ll miss. Then you can move through the grief when it really hits you, instead of feeling blindsided by your ache.

2. Name how each person and place has shaped you

Sometimes we don’t know how a person or place has shaped us until later on, when we no longer see them regularly. Post-goodbye naming is a helpful part of the grieving process. But there are some people and places you’ll say goodbye to who have influenced you in obvious ways. When that’s the case, name one or two of those ways on your last walk together around campus, or your last ice cream run together, and say thank you. It’s a way to honor the friendship as it has been.

You can do the same with significant places. Visit the spot under your favorite tree on campus where you had an a-ha moment about your career and recall the insight gained. Return to the table in the commons where you attended or led your first Bible study and ponder how you met Jesus there. Naming these significant qualities and memories marks them in meaningful ways, as essential threads being woven together in the tapestry that is our lives.

3. Take the pressure off

You don’t need to make any promises about how much you’ll keep in touch. There are a lot of unknowns coming! Don’t add having to keep up weekly with all twenty close friends from college. Give yourself some time to move to where you’re going and be present in that new life. Then see how much communication you need with college friends. If you’ve had a very tight-knit group, it might make sense to continue your group chat post-college or even plan for a New Year’s (or other) get-together. But it’s okay if you can’t. And you likely won’t know if it’s possible until later anyway.

In the first few years after graduation, I settled into ongoing friendships with a few college friends — friends I’m still in touch with now many years later. We talk on the phone or Zoom very occasionally and see each other even less. But when we do communicate, we get right to the important things. These relationships are different than they were in college. They’re different than the relationships I have with friends who live near me. But they’re still good, and honest, and important.

You’ll end up keeping in touch with the friends you need to, the ones the Lord keeps on your heart and in your mind. And it’s okay if you just message others on Facebook once in a while or not at all, depending on your capacity. It doesn’t mean the friendship wasn’t meaningful. You can still be grateful for the time you had together.

4. Look ahead, not just back

As hard as it is to say goodbye to good friends, their presence in your life is a sign of the Lord’s faithfulness in placing you in a good community. He’ll do the same in the new place you’re going to. It will likely take a bit longer than it took you in college, but in your church and workplace and city and grad program and book club, there are people who will shape you and be shaped by you as was true in your relationships in college. Thank the Lord for the community he’s given and the people he’s yet to bring into your life.

And it might sound cliché, but there is one goodbye you never have to say. Jesus is your home, your Good Shepherd, your friend, your sovereign Lord and Savior wherever you are. He is with you, compassionate and loving, as you say goodbye to others, and he goes with you into the new places he’s leading you to.

I didn’t know what the Lord had for me in each of my new places. Finding community in some of them has been slow at times. But he has been faithful in each goodbye, kept me connected to several good friends in each place, and brought new friends in the cities he’s led me to. He will do the same for you.

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Lisa Schrad worked at InterVarsity Press for over nine years as a proofreader and Bible study editor and then at InterVarsity’s headquarters on the Communications Team. She has an MFA in poetry from Butler University and loves reading, writing,and having good conversations with family and friends over steaming-hot beverages.