Finding New Life in Saying Goodbye

Finding New Life in Saying Goodbye

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


“It seems as if we’re always saying goodbye.” These words came from a resident at our United Methodist Home in Shelton, Conn. It speaks to an all too common experience of older adults. Inevitably, as we age, more and more of our loved ones and friends precede us in death. It speaks to a sense of loneliness often found among the aging.

The comment got me thinking about the home’s upcoming annual memorial service. At this time, we will remember residents and staff members who have died during the past 12 months. As usual the list will have about 100 names, which is to say, some parts of our community are dealing with death that many times a year. So I get it. I understand the sentiment, “It seems as if we’re always saying goodbye.” We, as a community are always saying goodbye. I was more than understanding of her feelings.

A few hours later while sharing this comment with another staff member, she said, “That’s true, but what’s also true is that we’re always saying hello. I am forever meeting new people and learning new names and hearing new experiences!” Her comment really struck me! While never wanting to minimize the sense of loss experienced by older adults, there is value in her observation. Attitude makes a difference in how loss of any kind is experienced. 

All relocations come with loss as well as opportunity to have new experiences. All changes of routine bring disorientation as well as new possibilities.

I recently heard an expression that shocked me because it was exactly the one I had used more than 20 years ago when my first wife died. My brother had died unexpectedly three weeks earlier and my sister-in-law and I were sharing our experiences and how we were coping with such a traumatic loss of our spouses.

She said, “It feels like I died with him.” It was certainly a feeling to which I could relate, as could anyone who has had a similar experience.

My response was “Irene, I understand that feeling, but the truth is Bob died, you did not; Judie died, I did not. We have to face that and find a new way to live.”

I heard the same expression from a man whose wife had died a few months ago. “I began to heal,” he said, “when I faced that fact and told myself I did not die.”

Attitude does not change the reality. But it does change how we cope with the reality. Listening to the pain of loss is an important part of care giving; but equally important is gently leading a person to see that as difficult as loss is to face, there is still a life to be lived and rediscovered.

Feel free to print or share with your congregation. © 2014 Rev. James Stinson