Families in Transition: Saying Good Goodbyes

Although saying goodbyes is often viewed with a sense of sadness, when approached mindfully it can strengthen relationships – both old and new. Here’s the four-step RAFT process for finding resolution when parting ways.

Whether it’s to family, friends, a job, or a home, at some point in our lives, all of us will have to say goodbye. For families in transition, these instances of separation are even more common, leading to the belief that for them goodbyes should be easier.

Yet studies show that third culture kids (TCKs) experience more loss in their developmental years than most adults experience in a lifetime, which leads to accumulated stress.

This is often followed by an avoidant coping mechanism, in which families in transition switch off their emotions and avoid connections as a protection mechanism. They “move on” to the next stage, place or person, making goodbyes easier to ignore – Why would I engage with something new if I will soon say goodbye? is the thinking,

Fight, flight or freeze…

When we encounter a stressful stimulus, this brings up emotions that need to be released and results in the fight or flight response.

If we allow for the emotions to be released and feelings to be integrated, we achieve relaxation and are open to new experiences. When this cycle is interrupted, however, we may reach a state of freeze, or collapse.

To protect themselves from the pain of loss, families who live a nomadic life or move frequently may limit and block the expression of emotions that come with separation, leading to an accumulated sense of loss. They may experience a series of unfinished cycles of emotional accumulation and expression as they face sequences of separation over short periods of time.

What can we do about it?

In the context of leaving, a good goodbye can act as the integration of feelings around separation that enables us to move towards new hellos.

We can aim for a “good goodbye” by following the steps in a process we give the acronym RAFT:

  1. Reconciliation – a space to forgive and be forgiven. Confront the issues of the past and deal with “unfinished business”. Understand and have respect for one another, which strengthens relationships.
  2. Affirmation – sometimes referred to as appreciation or thanks, it also gives an opportunity to hear what others appreciate in us.
  3. Farewell – ritual to say goodbye. It provides scope for creativity, cultural empathy and celebration.
  4. Think Destination – thinking specifically and realistically about our destination as an integral part of good goodbyes. Research your new location and chat together as a family about expectations and fears. This can help to lessen apprehension about the move and bring a sense of unity and purpose.

Remember to give each step equal time, importance, attention, and respect – avoid moving on too quickly or jumping straight to the final stage. Refocus on reconciliation and affirmation as a way of allowing yourself to digest and integrate difficult emotions such as grief, anger and fear.

Allow yourself to have a good goodbye. This is crucial for families in transition, as it constitutes the essential process of integration that allows for engaging in new hellos.

With thanks to Sara Nóbrega for her contribution to this article.

How do you feel about goodbyes? Do you find that embracing the process enables more meaningful connections? Please share your tips below!

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