“You must have the worst job in the world,” a client once told my supervisor.
I would be quite inclined to disagree, obviously. However, the context in which these words were spoken lend them a strong element of truth.
There are probably lots, but I’m hard pressed at the moment to think of many jobs outside of the helping professions where you habitually build significant relationships with people, who are more often than not in a state of distress, see them change, grow, improve (or worsen), hear some of their closest secrets, their worst fears, and at the end of the day, without fail, have to say goodbye.
And I’m quickly discovering that this is one element of being a helper that, for lack of a more descriptive word, sucks. It’s balls.
It’s one of those things that you read in the intro to counselling textbooks and think that you’ve got a handle on, that you’ll know all the right things to say, that you’ll know how to take care of yourself when a client walks out of your office for the last time visibly trying to hold back tears after you’ve stumbled through saying goodbye.
I feel like there have been a lot of those lessons, the ones where all of a sudden what you read or learned about makes sense in a totally different way once you live it. And you’re left thinking “ahhhhh… that’s what they were talking about!” Except it’s just not possible to really know what they were talking about before you experience it. You think you do. But you don’t. I’ll have a post of some of these lessons sometime in the future.
But one has to ask: why do we put ourselves through this painful process of saying goodbye, when it goes against every human impulse to remain connected, to just say, “I’m sure I’ll see you again, somewhere, sometime”?
Because there really is every impulse to say something to that effect. Something about saying “goodbye” is so final, so definitive, such a reminder of our mortality, that to face it head on can be incredibly anxiety provoking. Endings are uncomfortable, and experiencing one often brings up memories of endings from our past.
One of the most salient such memories for myself is having to say goodbye to my grandfather on his deathbed. What could I possibly say that would communicate what I feel? And how? I’ll always remember how awkward that moment was, and how really, I couldn’t think of the ‘right’ thing to say. How, more than anything, I felt embarrassed, and then guilty that this was the strongest thing that I felt.
In the situation I’m in now, at the end of an 8 month practicum, saying goodbye after goodbye after goodbye to the very people I had previously been trying to get to know better, to build a strong therapeutic relationship with, it’s hard not to be reminded of all the times I wish I had done a better job saying goodbye to other people in my life.
But I guess that’s just human nature. It’s easier to avoid the hard feelings. To ignore the discomfort. To say, “I’ll see you around sometime” when we know that we damn sure won’t.
It’s time to reclaim goodbye.