Over the past two years, my son has been in a play therapy process to integrate emotions, find language for sensations in his body, and grow more deeply self-attached.
He’s grown immensely through his therapy, and at seven years old, has learned to trust himself even in the scariest of unknown places. As an empath, this is a true gift for him.
And it is now time to say goodbye to play therapy and his beloved therapist, K—because he is ready. Because we are ready.
In our play therapy process, the goodbye happens over three sessions. The first session is about the sadness of saying goodbye. We hang out with the sadness that arises when we realize we may never see the other person again. There is no “maybe I’ll see you around,” or “I’ll come back to visit.” We sit with the feeling of heartache that comes with finality.
The second session explores the juxtaposing nature of goodbyes and how they can be both sad and exciting at once. In this space, there is room for a new beginning. As we grieve what was, we are able to make space for what is.
A party to celebrate the culmination of therapy and to say our final goodbye occurs in the third session. It is here that we give ourselves permission to feel the upper limits of excitement and the possibility that lies in the future.
As I prepare to support my son through his transition out of play therapy, I realize this is probably the first of many conscious goodbyes for him. Yes, he says goodbye to me every day at school drop-off, or before I leave for a trip, or to teach a class. But this goodbye is one that marks a closing chapter of his life. It is a defining goodbye that will spawn a new beginning.
For the past year or so, I’ve been pouring over texts, memoirs, cultural rites of passage, and the latest in neurological science and piecing it all together to shed light on the human experience of transition. My quest was motivated by a combination of personal experience through a major life transition and a desire to support others through their own processes of change and new growth.
Rising to the surface in every single story, essay, and data analysis is the fact that humans are resistant to change and often reluctant to say goodbye.
Despite that we cognitively understand that everything eventually comes to an end and nothing can stay the same, often our emotional self—that one that has lived through the pain of goodbyes—will resist having to experience it again.
When we can’t let go freely and join the natural pulse of the universe, it can manifest into holding onto ideas, relationships, jobs, and objects long past their time from a place of lack. Or it manifests into the very opposite—giving everything away or over-extending that results in complete exhaustion. The repercussions of getting stuck or over-extending cause great imbalance to our entire system of body, mind, heart, and spirit, and can at worst lead to chronic pain and disease. When we tighten our grasp, refusing to say goodbye, or when we deplete ourselves by neglecting to honor the flow that has existed since the beginning of time, we will ultimately suffer more.
Ending, middle space, new beginning. In yoga, we refer to the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva to explain the energetic churning of life’s cyclical pattern.
Brahma is the energy of creation and beginning, Vishnu is sustenance, and Shiva is ending with the spaciousness for a new beginning.
Through our practice both on and off the mat, we are able to sit in the seat of the witness, gaining a sense of presence for each moment. When the moments we are presently living carry the energy of goodbye, we can be in them and give space to the sadness and grief that arise with letting go.
Like my son, whose cheeks flushed bright red and eyes filled with tears when he faced the reality of goodbye, we stay with the emotions so that they will move through us. Though our impulse may be to find a way out of the discomfort or reach for soothing outside of ourselves, when we stay, we are gifted the ability to trust ourselves through all of life’s transitions. This is what transforms our soul and increases our capacity to be patient, open, and receptive in the space between the ending and new beginning.
Again and again we come back into relationship with practices that encourage loosening the grip, letting go, and meeting our emotions with loving-kindness. Again and again we experience the one aspect of life that will always remain true—that things will always change.
It is humbling and freeing to choose this path because it is a path that does not deny finality. To choose this path is to truly honor our connection with something much greater than ourselves and understand control as a mere perception of reality. Surrendering to every moment, especially goodbyes, is the ultimate act of courage.
The transition between seasons offers a space between where there is time to grow still and pay attention. Over the past several months, nature has slowed its pace with the leaves, plants, flowers, and grasses drying up and drawing inward. Nature prepares herself for winter by keeping only what is most essential for survival intact. As early snow blankets the mountains and prairie, the anticipation of winter heightens. Taking a hike over fallen, dried pine needles and feeling my skin grow rosy against the crisp air, I feel the energy of goodbye.
I am with my sadness in this moment, feeling deeply and fully. I reflect on how, in the car yesterday, my seven-year-old son started asking me about death.
“Do you want your body buried or burned, Mommy?” he asked.
“Burned,” I responded.
“Why?” he asked.
I gave him some answer involving ashes and going back to the earth, something his little mind could at least begin to integrate.
The sun warms my shoulders and burns through morning fog, and my feet take one step and then another. I am aware that every goodbye is practice for our final goodbye in this lifetime, in this body. It is preparation for us to return to Earth just as the withering flowers and crumbling leaves are now under my feet.
There is a melancholy beauty in the many opportunities we are given to practice saying goodbye. I feel brave simply existing here, in nature, with the discomfort of an ending. Palms open, I observe the last of the quivering leaves fall slowly to the ground, and at the same time I am able to touch into a reverence for what is around the bend, and two seemingly opposites coexist.
A letting go. A taking in.
Author: Keri Shee
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Travis May