Aleteia

What to do when someone leaves your life with “unfinished business”

SADNESS
Share

Thank you, sorry, and goodbye are the key words for letting go.

Have you ever ended a relationship with someone that left you feeling like there was still something you needed to say? Or, maybe you just hadn’t said goodbye because, for some reason, you couldn’t do it at the right time?

We find it hard to move on when someone has disappeared from our lives without the opportunity to say something we really wanted to. Or, for some other reason, we feel like that relationship was left as an unfinished chapter, a half-open door, or an unfinished story. How can we find closure?

Remember that our life is like a train, where other people board and disembark. Some passengers are more significant than others, but all teach us something during their time in our life.

Some board by surprise, others according to plan; what’s painful is when they disembark without saying goodbye, or when we’re not ready for them to leave. There can be many reasons: death, an unexpected need to move to a new location or job, or just an argument or misunderstanding that alienates us.

What do we do with all those words that we carry in our hearts and that we’d like to say? Do we have to reconnect with our former friend, boss, or romantic interest, to say everything that’s been piling up on our chest? Are we destined to be burdened forever if the person is beyond our reach?

No, not at all!

To let someone go, and to achieve closure, we don’t need to have them in front of us.

To say farewell to those people (or even circumstances that played an important role in our lives) with whom we feel we have unfinished business, we can start by saying goodbye with an attitude of gratitude and forgiveness towards them. When we do so, it will be easier for us to continue with our lives, and live more freely.

To begin this process of saying goodbye, try doing this personal exercise of introspection. Think of all the things for which you want to thank that person, the things for which you want to forgive them, and the things for which you want to be forgiven. Take out a pen and paper and write all this in a letter. Take your time; you’ll think of more things as you write. 

When you’ve finished writing, read the letter aloud in front of the mirror, imagining that you have that person in front of you. Be as honest and heart-felt as you can. You may even cry — don’t worry, that means you’re doing it right. (In case you were wondering, you don’t need to send the person the letter afterwards; on the contrary, you can even destroy it after you read it aloud.)

Here are some ideas that might help you write the letter:

Thank you for …

Make a clear list of everything you want to thank them for.

As badly as the relationship may have ended, we will always have something to thank that person for. We are all both teachers and students; even a person who caused us pain must have left some important lessons. Many life lessons come disguised as betrayal or a lack of love. At least we can say, “Thank you, because through you I learned what I should not do …”  And painful experiences can also teach us to appreciate the good things in life and to keep our priorities straight.

I forgive you; please forgive me …

Make a very detailed list of everything you need to forgive, and of those things for which you want to ask for forgiveness.

When there are problems in relationships, the guilt is often not entirely one-sided, but shared. To a greater or lesser extent, the two are co-responsible. For example, if one of the people repeatedly crossed a line, it means there was also another person who allowed it to keep happening. In such a case, we might need to write something like, “I forgive you for disrespecting me, and I apologize for not knowing how to put clear and loving limits in our relationship.”

You might be thinking: “How I can apologize if I still haven’t forgiven that person? When I think about that person, I feel like slapping him (or her).” Remember that forgiveness is a one-way street, and has nothing to do with feelings. Instead, it has to do with a decision of the will. My will or desire to forgive is enough to make it real. Forgiving doesn’t necessarily mean being friends or a couple again; it means choosing not to be a prisoner to a grudge or to a desire for revenge, not letting what someone did to you in the past continue to condition your future. That is, forgiveness lets you live in peace; it’s a way of releasing the person so as not to carry that burden into your new life.

Goodbye … 

It’s very important that you finish the letter with a sincere and definitive “goodbye.” Not “Goodbye, I hope one day we will see each other again.” No. It must be a goodbye with an ending point and not with an ellipsis.

Now, look at the beauty of the word goodbye: it is a contracted form of the expression “God be with you.” It means: I cannot carry you anymore, I cannot be with you anymore, but I leave you with God. Where my arms no longer reach, God’s arms will. So, God be with you: goodbye.

Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.