When you’re going away, whether that be moving to a far away location, taking a new job, or dying, people who care about you historically have wanted to get together one last time to say goodbye. A farewell is not a way of summarizing the relationship, but stating what the relationship has meant to you.
If the relationship has been a good one, you might say things like how fond you’ve been of the person, express any regrets such as not spending enough time together doing things you’ve enjoyed, or reminiscing about the good times you’ve had together. It might even be a time to express difficult things that you were never brave enough to say before. These are common threads of many farewell gatherings. A good farewell is an art.
All this has changed with electronic communications: e-mail and instant messaging means never having to say goodbye again, and that is a tragedy.
I won’t go so far as to say people don’t say goodbye anymore; obviously some people do. But I just left a job that I’d been working at for over 2 years, and only about 5 or 6 people stopped by to have a real goodbye. Those were very meaningful to me and I’m grateful to those (including the president/CEO) who came by personally to chat, reminisce and thank me.
But most others I’ve known either didn’t say anything at all (which is fine with me; I don’t get hung up on that) or said something like “well, we can email” or “I’ll see you on IM” even though I’m not part of the office IM network anymore.
While it’s true that we can still communicate electronically (I even still write to some friends using paper and ink—how’s that for old-fashioned?), electronic communication is a far distant 4th or 5th place in communication modes. You cannot express the same nuance or subtleties in writing, let alone hasty writing. Even if you, the author, take great care to craft a careful message, the electronic medium encourages the reader to skim it and “get the gist” instead of read it for what it’s worth.
So what do we really lose? We really lose those last few precious minutes where people get screw up their courage and say things they really mean: “I’ll miss you,” “Please come by if you’re in town,” or even more personal things.
Even just a look in the eye, a nod, a faked grin; these convey more meaning in seconds than you could put into an email. Again, not because the text of the email, but because of the medium itself discourages both sender and receiver to weigh the message by its real value.
The last time I met someone whom I had previously said goodbye to in person, the reunion was sweet and joyful. We picked up right where we had left off, but there was an added understanding to our friendship, something more enduring.
Next time a friend moves away, a co-worker leaves, or other circumstance where the personal nature of your relationship will be altered, even if it may be for several months, take the time to say a real goodbye; be brave and say things you’ve wanted to say to them for a while. It’s ok to be a little clumsy as long as it’s sincere. You’ll be making an important memory in their mind and your friendship will be deeper for it.