Goodbyes are hard, but they are also meaningful

Originally published in the Deseret News.

For many Utah families, July and August are filled with goodbyes. Sons and daughters leave for school and military academies, LDS missionaries depart on missions and job seekers start fresh opportunities in new towns. In every case, a great thing is happening, but so is a goodbye.

I’m not very good at goodbyes. When I dropped my daughter off for college in Arizona, I had wet eyes and a pit in my stomach the entire 11-hour drive home. I spent so much time getting her ready for college, I forgot to get ready myself.

When I dropped my son off at the Provo Missionary Training Center, I felt similar emotions. I will never forget our anxious drive to the MTC and those first few months of separation. I cherished every bit of contact and kept a vision of him foremost in my mind.

Last week my nephew entered the U.S. Air Force Academy with the dream of becoming a fighter pilot. He joined 1,000 other Air Force cadets for a grueling six weeks of basic training.

I spoke with his mother about saying goodbye and leaving him in Colorado Springs. She told me the hardest part was knowing that their life would change.

Her comment struck a chord with me. It wouldn’t be a goodbye without change. Goodbyes are difficult because they mean change, sometimes big change. And when you like things the way they are, change is difficult.

I’m not a good person to give advice about change or saying goodbye, but I do have a few observations.

First, the hollowness we feel when we say goodbye to a loved one is a shared human emotion. No one is immune to that empty feeling. No self-help book, eating binge, new puppy, new car or hobby will supplant the emptiness. You just have to push through.

Second, goodbyes are hard to do alone. Everything is better if you share your feelings with someone you love. When I asked my sister-in-law about saying goodbye to her son, she said, “I couldn’t do this alone. I feel like I’m in a whole new family.” She affirmed that the support groups in the military are a beautiful thing.

Third, with every goodbye, prepare yourself and actively look for dozens upon dozens of tender mercies. These moments provide profound personal assurances that all is well. It can be something in nature, a text or phone call with an important thought, a profound coincident, or some other uncanny, unexplained message that lifts, clarifies and strengthens. Just when the journey seems too long, a tender mercy arrives and helps you know everything will work out.

The most important aspect of a goodbye is the positive change that can occur. Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

When we say goodbye, we commence a change in ourselves and in the person who is leaving. We both move out of our comfort zones and into a place where real magic happens. We may not know it or see it at the start, but great things come with change, especially when you believe.

In the case of my nephew, he, along with 1,000 other young men and women, took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America. My nephew now begins his journey of protecting our remarkable country. His mother told me it was awe-inspiring to watch and listen to this oath ceremony. She said this single experience will keep her going over the long weeks and months to come.

Goodbyes can be extremely difficult. They can also trigger enormous positive change. If we push through our understandable sadness, tap into a loving support network and watch for the inevitable tender mercies, it will be easier. Most importantly, we should accept positive change that makes ourselves and the people we love better, and this world a better place.