I had a joyful moment the other day I’ll remember for a long time.
As I sat on the chair in our bedroom, reading, I looked over to see our 20-month-old son, Landon, enter the room. He got no more than three feet into the room before he stopped to notice a picture propped up on the wall.
As Landon looked at the picture, I watched him lie down on his belly and lift his head to be face level with the image. (It was a wedding picture of Christi and I with our two flower girls). With no awareness of me in the room, he began to gaze at the picture in a very affectionate way, reaching out and touching the faces of each person in the photograph. It was beyond precious.
After a solid 30 seconds, he stood up, looked down at the picture, and with his little 20-month-old hand, waved goodbye and walked out of the room.
My heart melted.
I have a lot to learn from my 20-month-old. He’s learning the “good” in saying goodbye.
At a birthday party for his two-year-old friend the next day, I followed Landon around the playground engaging with him in all he wanted to do. As we made our way from the jungle gym to the swings, Landon stopped, picked up a rock, and examined it with the intensity of an archeologist. As he completed his study, he brought the rock over and invited me into his experience.
When he was done, he threw the rock on the ground and made a few steps toward the swing. Then, all of a sudden he stopped, turned around, and waved goodbye to the rock—as if to say,
“Thanks for giving my dad and me that experience. It’s over now, and it’s time to move on to the next one.”
After waving goodbye, he took my hand, and led me to the swings—into a new experience.
I remember my internship supervisor in my counseling program telling us, “The quality of your goodbyes will determine the quality of your hellos.”
Translation: The ability to grieve and make sense of your losses impacts how well you enter into and engage in future relationships. Unresolved grief can hurt how we engage our spouse and kids. Unresolved grief can also hurt how we enter new experiences.
Echoing this sentiment, we were challenged at Cloud – Townsend’s Ultimate Leadership to write a grief inventory—a log of all of the losses, no matter how big or small, we have failed to grieve through the years. As I put my list together I began to think of the people, places, unmet expectations, and unrealized dreams I lost.
And it was hard work. Perhaps that’s why we live in a “just get over it” culture. Most of us hate goodbyes.
Yet, it’s the most engaging and effective leaders, spouses, and parents who defy this mentality. They have people, or sometimes counselors, who they talk through and grieve their losses with. Once they grieve the loss, they move on more successfully, and become more engaged with those around them.
They embrace the “good” of saying “goodbye.”
We all have unresolved losses. I highly encourage you to do a grief inventory and share your experiences with close friends or a counselor. Those experiences could include any of the following:
- the loss of a loved one
- the loss of a job
- the loss of health
- the death of a dream
- estrangement of family
- disappointment in marriage
- the loss of a friendship
- the loss of a pet
- being treated unfairly or even abusively by a love one
Those who have trouble grieving, pay for it in some way. Or, it’s their spouse, kids, or loved ones who pay for it. That’s because the quality of our goodbyes determine the quality of our hellos.
That’s why, just like Landon, I’m learning to embrace the “good” in saying goodbye.
As Landon went back and forth in the swing laughing uncontrollably at my ridiculous dad faces and voices we only do for our kids, I couldn’t help but think about how little we take the time to say goodbye to different events, different seasons of life, different people, different places, and different things, no matter how small.
When Landon finished swinging I got him down, stood him on the ground and asked him what he wanted to do next. Aware of the new experience he wanted to say hello to, he took my hand and began leading me back to the jungle gym—but not before he stopped, turned around, and waved goodbye to the swings.