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Learning from These Sudden Senior Year Goodbyes

I wasn’t prepared for the school year to end so abruptly

I’m no good at saying goodbye. Give me no time to prepare, and I think I’m even worse. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the sudden end of the rest of my in-person senior year in college, I’ve had to say goodbye to several friends and colleagues with little warning.

This abrupt ending has thrown me off. I hate to whine, but I wasn’t ready to part ways with so many people. It takes time to reflect on others and consider what I want to say when I might never see them again.

No goodbye is easy, and no goodbye ever feels adequate. But it takes a while for the reality of a goodbye to settle in. The natural buildup of expectation over the course of the last semester of college, which Dan Chiasson wrote about for The New Yorker, helps to ease the transition between college life and post-college life.

Of course, not getting to say a proper goodbye is small potatoes compared to more serious issues people are facing right now, like losing jobs, homes or loved ones. Those things are awful, but they don’t make the little things suck any less.

Of course, not getting to say a proper goodbye is small potatoes compared to more serious issues people are facing right now, like losing jobs, homes or loved ones. Those things are awful, but they don’t make the little things suck any less.

In day-to-day life, it’s easy to let the specifics of what you appreciate about someone go unnoticed. Saying goodbye, for me, requires a bit of excavation into those little things. With some time, I can at least have a couple words to say. Even if what I say is inadequate, something is better than nothing. A couple words can signal a greater appreciation I might be trying to articulate.

In my most recent goodbyes, I’ve tried to give thanks to the person for whatever they’ve done that has made them worth a goodbye in the first place. I try to let them know what I think of them. Then I probably wish them luck. And finally, I might just say “bye,” which is too small a word to encompass all the emotion in a parting of ways.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that. It just hasn’t felt adequate. And it hasn’t helped that we’re supposed to be avoiding getting too close to anyone. Hugs or anything like them are off the table.

Maybe all I’m really getting at is that saying goodbye is one hell of a difficult task, and doing so right now almost feels cruel. Being a true digital age child, I browsed the internet for tips on saying goodbye and got some vague ideas and a suggestion to give the person a memento—which, again, doesn’t seem smart right now.

But no matter how much you prepare, goodbyes are always going to hurt.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations, you get my cliché takeways: if you have the chance, make your goodbyes worthwhile. Take time. And if you don’t have to say goodbye to someone yet, treasure them, and let them know how much you appreciate them as a friend or colleague or whatever else.

You never know when the world might be struck by a pandemic and you have to say goodbye without warning. Be grateful and appreciative and let those that matter know it. Oh, and wash your hands and stay the hell home as much as possible.

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