The Art of (A Good) Goodbye

I think “goodbye” is an oxymoron.

For what it’s worth, I’ve never known a “bye” I’d call “good.”

How great to forever wipe goodbye from our lips.

This month reminded me how very ill-equipped I am – even after nearly four decades – to handle goodbye well.

Do we ever really master that skill?

The dearest boss I’ve known as a professional (in a nearly 20-year career) gave her two-week notice and left our office recently. She has an incredible new position and I’m thrilled for the opportunities she’ll realize just down the road in downtown Houston.

But, MAN, that goodbye was tough.

Claire Diane

So much so that, at her office goodbye party, my entire team couldn’t even look at each other – much less HER – without actually crying on the spot!

How’s that for professionalism? 🙂

Sitting with my colleagues over lemon squares and red Kool-Aid at the conference room table, tears began gathering in my eyes. My friend Laura said, “Claire, stop! I know, I know… We’re all in the same boat!”

You’d think I was talking about a cherished family member or lifelong friend… but a BOSS?!

It’s quite remarkable when the loss of your boss brings a cascade of tears – well before and even days after her departure!

Silly even.

But the whole thing got me thinking.

Why on earth was this goodbye so tough?

What made her so truly special?

And what can I take away from the touch she so clearly had on our team?

Part of it had to do with her leadership – she has an MBA from Rice University and can “market” anyone I know under the table.

When I had any doubt re: next steps for crisis communications or handling a difficult PR issue, she was my gal.

But that’s not even it.

It was the effect she had on YOU.

Whether you were the provost of the university or the cleaning lady who spoke very limited English, she made you feel HEARD, APPRECIATED and UNDERSTOOD.

It was such a refreshing and unexpected gift.

My office was directly across from hers and her impact never ceased to amaze me.

One colleague – even after she retired from the university – would regularly visit Diane with a new scarf she knitted just for her!

The student who daily delivered our office mail always made a point of stopping at Diane’s office to say hello and interact for a moment.

I’m telling you, it was crazy!

I’ve never seen anything like it.

My VP said it best at her going-away party. She said, “We all know the impact she had at our university. But I just experienced it in a nutshell. We just walked down to the cafeteria for lunch and there wasn’t a single person – from the server at the salad buffet to the cashier – that she didn’t greet by name and interact with on a personal level.”

And I think that’s the real beauty she leaves in her wake.

She was an entire day-changing, soul-uplifting presence.

And it was an absolute joy to work underneath her.

How Lucky I Am

We’ll soon post her job description and attempt to recruit another to inhabit her office – two short steps away from my own.

But she’ll stay on a pedestal all her own.

Dr. Seuss

As much as I love Dr. Seuss, I’m still working on that one.

Kurt Vonnegut said, “It’s the emptiest and yet the fullest of all human messages: “Good-bye.”

Author Karen Tayleur said, “… I looked through the car’s rear window for a final wave, and it felt like someone had invaded my chest and squeezed all the juice out of my heart until it was a tiny, dry sponge.”

How many people do you know who leave such a lasting impression?

On her very last day, she stayed at the office until after 7 p.m. tying up loose ends.

I wasn’t about to leave before she did.

As she began gathering up her things, I helped her carry her framed MBA diploma, office paintings and a few files to her car.

We carted them down to the University police station, where I waited with her things until she brought her car up from a distant parking lot.

I had told her that I was leaving there for dinner with my girlfriends.

What she doesn’t know is that – while she went to get her car – I texted them to say I couldn’t make it.

Instead I went home and cried over a glass or two of Sauvignon Blanc and a favorite, sad movie on Netflix.

Here are a few takeaways I gleaned from my friend:

  • A ready smile makes a world of difference to those in your sphere;
  • Investing in others’ lives and showing that you care is as rare as it is appreciated;
  • Transparency and a genuine conversation can be a tremendous boost during a tough week;
  • Everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – needs encouragement and the sincere words of a friend on a regular basis;
  • Offering your 100-percent attention and the gift of understanding CHANGES PEOPLE’S LIVES.

I suppose that’s Diane’s differentiator – she changed people’s lives through her caring heart and listening ears. And her unexpected humor carried her over the brim of the “like-ability” scale.

As far as goodbyes go, Diane’s was as good as they come.

Not because it wasn’t a bit gut-wrenching (you think I’m kidding!).

But because she left you a better person than the “you” she first met.

And because her departure made you want to grasp the baton and continue caring for others with her same grace.

Not a bad footprint for a boss, a friend, a mom, a colleague, etc.

Her goodbye hurt.

No getting around it.

But getting to share her light for a while made even the shadow of her departure worth it.

Something I would never have realized from a less-than-exceptional boss.

Thanks for your special soul-touch, Diane.

And thanks for your last lesson: Even hard goodbyes can have silver linings.

Claire Signature

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