When you’re done reading below, you’ll enjoy these relephant reads as well:
Sticks and stones may break my bones, and words can bruise the strongest heart…
But I’ve learned that a lack of words can truly tear a soul apart…
I will never understand why it is so difficult for people to manage honesty when it matters.
I completely understand a lack of forthright communication when we’re being polite and trying to be kind to someone we don’t know well. In those cases, maybe we’re not 100 percent honest, because it isn’t helpful to us or to them.
This isn’t lying; it’s functioning in the world as a considerate human being.
I will never advocate for that brand of brutal honesty where we all go around saying whatever we want with no regard to the feelings of others. That’s called being an a**hole.
But when we know someone—when we’re privy to their secrets and their personal darkness, when we know intimately how they think or what their heartbeat sounds like when they’re sleeping, when we are close to someone in that way—how can we be anything but honest with them?
We all tell ourselves a story about who we are and the things that have happened to us. One story I’ve carried around has been so heavy that I’ve had to lay it down. And yet sometimes something happens that reminds me of that story, so I go back and pick up that burden and carry it again for a little longer.
My story is that I don’t trust people not to let me down.
My story has been conditioned and reinforced. It has made me fierce and strong and independent. And lonely and distrustful and tired.
It’s made me all of those things, because my best friend in the world once disappeared from my life without a word. No, he didn’t die or move out of the country or develop selective mutism. He left on purpose.
He. Left. Me. On. Purpose.
He’s fine, actually. I know where he is and generally how he’s doing because others have let me know over time through mutual friends. But he left me behind long ago.
Then I got married. And my husband left me too, without a word. He stayed, but left anyway. When I had my children, I decided I could not be an invisible person in this world. I need to hold my own space, to breathe my own air, to shape our lives from a place of joy.
Fast forward to today, and I want to tell you that everything changed. That I met a good man. That I fell in love with him. That he loved me back.
But that’s not what happened.
I met a man, and I fell in love with him—and he was just killing time waiting for someone else. And when he left, he did so with no words at all. No goodbye. No sorry for using you. No explanation.
And so, I kept going back and picking up that burden to carry—that feeling that I can’t trust others, that they’ll always let me down.
But I’ve realized that it’s not all the leaving that hurts the most; it’s the lack of words. It’s the refusal to allow me the dignity of closure or of a simple goodbye.
That’s what I’m carrying around.
It hurts enough to experience the loss of being left behind for any reason, but it’s infinitely more painful when we’re left without words. It hurts because it takes our power away. We’re not able to say our goodbyes or realize that this is the last time we’ll see that person.
We’re not given an explanation, so we’re left with all of our questions. They start like this: What if I….
Words are important. They can lift us up or break us down, and they can touch our hearts even when we read them on a page. Our lives are made up of words, and when those words aren’t spoken, they leave a terrible emptiness in their wake.
In that emptiness, insecurities flood in: the doubt, the anger, the grief and all “whys.”
When we know someone so well that we know how much our leaving will hurt them, we do owe them a goodbye. Our humanity owes their humanity that small slice of dignity.
So when we need to go, here are a few simple ways to say goodbye:
1. Write a letter. No, I did not say a text. I guess a text is better than nothing—but not by much. So write a letter. If you can’t for whatever reason say goodbye in person, write a damn letter even if the only word you write is goodbye.
2. Leave a poem or lyrics to a song. If you cannot find the words to say, find someone else’s and leave that. Leave it written down or send the song itself, but use the words even if they aren’t your own.
“Don’t you ever say I just walked away
I will always want you
I can’t live a lie, running for my life
I will always want you”
~ Miley Cyrus, Wrecking Ball
3. Leave a video. If you can’t say it in person, leave a video. So many people put their thoughts out on social media and YouTube, so why do so many leave without words when it’s as simple as making a short video and sending it to say goodbye?
4. Just say the words. It’s tough, I know. It’s so hard to hurt someone else or sometimes just to leave. (And I’m not talking about abusive relationships. You don’t have to take that sh*t from anyone; just go.) I’m talking about regular relationships (platonic or otherwise) that go south. Have courage and say the words. Maybe they sound like this:
I’m sorry. I don’t think I’m what you’re looking for, and I know you’re not what I’m looking for. This isn’t going to work out.
I cannot spend time with you anymore for XYZ reason. I wish you well, but this is where I am right now.
I love you, but this isn’t healthy for me.
What we have to say might sound like any of these or none of these, and maybe our situation is so deep that we don’t feel like we have any words to express ourselves. I’ve been there, and I know what it is to feel so hollow that there are no words left.
Yet, isn’t there always something? There’s goodbye at least.
Words are powerful. When we withhold them, we’re denying their power and disempowering those we leave in the wreckage of those unspoken words. Sometimes it hurts just as much to have those difficult words withheld (“I’m leaving you. Goodbye.”) as it is to have the precious ones kept from us (“I love you. I miss you.”).
We free ourselves and each other when we find the courage to speak our truth and honor our own feelings while recognizing that our truth and feelings aren’t the only ones in play.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: @gypsieraleigh on Instagram
Editor: Toby Israel