• Rohan

Not being able to say goodbye




Sometimes when we lose a loved one, we may not get the chance to say goodbye to them before they die. Unfortunately in the last year this has only increased as a result of both the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing measures. Many of the traditions that we usually have to acknowledge, celebrate and honour the loss of a loved one like funerals and wakes have been disrupted too.


Not having the chance to say goodbye can feel very painful and be difficult to come to terms with. Psychologically, we are wired to try to conclude and resolve incomplete and unfinished situations. When things are completed, even if it's not necessarily the result we may like, we are generally more able to accept them and integrate these experiences into our lives. This allows us to bring more of our attention and awareness to our other needs and matters going on for us.


When things, jobs, stages and relationships end in a complete way, and we accept this for what it is, it is known popularly as having closure. When we aren't able to have a proper ending or there are significant things left unconcluded or unknown, whether that be a period of our life, an event, a relationship or something else, it often leads to psychological unfinished business arising.


Unfinished business


Unfinished business occurs when something from our past is left unresolved or unfinished. It frequently occurs in grief, particularly with not being able to say goodbye to a loved one. Not being able to say goodbye means that often there are important things left unsaid or expressed or asked and these things can stay with us, unresolved. Having unfinished business, in addition to the emotional pain and disturbance felt from it, can also lead to a person feeling sapped of energy and they might find it difficult to deal with other needs in their life and find it harder to focus on things and often feel distracted.


In relation to processing grief, unfinished business can prolong and complicate the grief process as it can lead to the suppression of difficult feelings which makes it harder for us to naturally process other emotions arising from grief that we will be feeling.


Thinking about other ways of saying goodbye


Unfortunately, as with much when it comes to grief, there is no right way for coming to terms with not being able to say goodbye. Understanding what might be going on for you though and finding healthy ways of managing difficult feelings and thoughts can help you find your own path through your experience of grief.


One thing to consider specifically with this type of loss, is though you have not been able to say goodbye and resolve things in the way you wished, that there are also other ways of honouring and saying goodbye to your loved one. Finding your own way, or even ways, to say goodbye to the person you loved might be an important part of your experience of grief. Below are some ideas that might help you:


Write a letter


Writing a letter to your loved one can be a way of expressing exactly the things that you would have wanted to say to them. This can be particularly helpful for expressing difficult and mixed feelings which you might not have been able to say to them, even if you were able to have a chance to speak to them before they died. Writing a letter doesn't have to be a one-off activity; you can write multiple letters at different times in your life. You don't need to show them to anyone else unless you want to and they can be helpful to come back to at later and significant times such as significant anniversaries.


Go to a special place that holds a shared memory


For some it might be hard to express in words or writing exactly how you feel and what you would want to say. Going to a place that holds shared memories and significance with you and a loved one can help you feel closer to them.


Creating something to help express yourself


Another way to say goodbye that may be helpful if it's hard to express directly exactly how you feel would be to express them creatively. This can also be helpful at times if you don't feel like connecting with others. This is not limited to but could include doing some crafts, a drawing, painting or sculpture. It could also be writing a story or poem or piece of music. It doesn’t need to be perfect or a high piece of art, the importance is connecting to yourself emotionally and what you want to express through a creative process.


Doing something that means something to you and your loved one


This could be something like committing to a goal or training and taking part in a race or event for example. Alternatively it could mean starting a project or working for a cause that means something to you and your loved one. Many charities, businesses and foundations have been established this way. Sometimes it could be doing something that the other person had wished to do or finish, or visiting a place that they had wanted to go.


Talking to others about your experience


Talking to others, particularly if you are finding your emotions and thoughts overwhelming can be very helpful. Ideally try and find someone you feel safe and who you would feel comfortable to talk about difficult things with. There are also many support groups that you can attend online where you can listen and share your experience with other people who have experienced a similar loss. Often with these groups there is also not a requirement to speak, you can just be there. Speaking to a counsellor or therapist can also help to increase your understanding and awareness of what is going on for you. Counselling, as well as providing you with a safe therapeutic space for you to talk about your grief, can be particularly helpful for exploring difficult to talk about aspects of it.



Showing kindness and understanding to yourself


Often when someone passes away and we can't say goodbye, we can feel a lot of difficult emotions and may experience a lot of critical self talk and difficult thoughts going through our head. Some of these feelings can include anger, guilt and remorse. This is very common and it can feel isolating to experience.


Part of working with this is to recognise that this is very common and to find compassion for yourself. We can easily fall into a mental trap of looking back to the past and judging ourselves for how we acted based on the information that we know now, but not at that time. Still, if on honest and fair reflection we feel that we did act incorrectly at that time, rather than blaming ourselves, which helps no one, we can think about how we can take responsibility instead for that to make sure we don't act that way again with others.


We can also easily get caught up in black and white thinking and faulty logic when under stress and make unhelpful judgements about ourselves. For instance we might think that because we didn’t say goodbye, we are a bad person. When we notice that we are making judgements about ourselves it can be helpful to think if we would make the same judgement to a friend who was going through a similar experience. Would we judge them the same way? And if we wouldn't, why judge ourselves this way?


It might be the case that we hold unconscious negative beliefs about ourselves and that in times of stress, such as loss, they are more likely to surface in our thoughts. Counselling can help you to understand and develop your self awareness of your thoughts so that you can challenge them and choose different ways of making sense of things.


Understanding grief as a process


Grief is a process, by which it is meant that it is something that has to be experienced and lived through rather than fixed so that the loss of our loved one can be integrated into our lives. As mentioned before there is no quick solution or fix to grief and your emotional state can vary wildly or even feel stuck at times. Some of these suggestions might be helpful to some and less impactful for others. Try to practice compassion for yourself and patience and understand that your path through grief is unique.


If you are experiencing one of these losses or grieving, counselling can help you through providing a supportive space for yourself with processing thoughts and feelings that you might be experiencing but find it difficult to talk about. It can also help you to cultivate compassion for yourself and help you explore your own ways of saying goodbye.


If you are interested in finding out more about counselling or booking an initial counselling session email me at enquiries@rmcounselling.org.uk or call or text me on 07445 551287.


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