If I had to decide which word was hardest for people to say, I would vote for “good-bye.” Good-byes are difficult for just about everyone. If no one ever went anywhere or changed or died, we'd have no need for good-byes, and some of us think that might be a good thing. But the truth of life, as the Buddha taught, is that all of life is change. People we love and care about move to a new place, go on to new things, get fired or have their contracts not renewed, or depart from loved ones by divorcing or dying, or change in some way that leaves us behind, and so for all of us leave-takings are a natural, if disliked, part of who we are as humans.
There's no getting around it -- no matter what, each and every one of us has to learn to say good-bye to the people, places and things we love. The way I see it, we have only two choices, and neither of them is easy. We can either say good-bye badly, in ways that hurt, or we can say good-bye well, in ways that help us to grow and move on with our lives.
We need to learn to say good-bye well. That means acknowledging the pain we feel over change and loss of all kinds, the small as well as the large. It means looking hopefully towards the unknown future, knowing that it holds mysteries of both happiness and grief. Saying good-bye well means expressing the mixed emotions of parting -- the excitement and anticipation pulling us towards the new, the sadness on both sides at parting, the ache of those left behind. If we let ourselves be the kind of people who never can say good-bye, we become people who cannot deal with strong emotion, who cannot move ahead with life.
In my 20+ years as a UU minister, I have counseled many families and individuals over issues of grief and loss, and I have tried to help them all to say good-bye well. I have found that there are five things that need to be said in order to have a good good-bye. The first and second are to express love, on both sides, and the third and fourth are to extend and ask for forgiveness. The fifth and final thing is let each other go with good wishes and without bitterness.
Let me say first that I love this congregation and this church. You are good people, and this is a good church. The first duty of a parish minister is to love the people she or he is privileged to be ministering among, and I have done that to the best of my ability, and I hope that most of you can say you return my affections, whatever our differences have been in the past.
Since the best of my ability was often not good enough, I humbly ask your forgiveness. I acknowledge that I have sometimes made situations worse when I was trying to make them better, spoken when I should have stayed silent, stayed silent when I should have spoken. I deeply regret any and all times I have fallen short as your minister, and assure you that my many failings and faults were never intentionally inflicted upon you. I am sorry I did not always live up to your expectations and hopes.
Because I know I need forgiveness for not being the perfect minister, and because I love you, I also forgive you for not being the perfect church and the perfect congregation. I forgive you for the times you hurt my feelings or ignored me, misconstrued my words or actions, refused to come directly to me with your questions and concerns, failed to live up to my expectations and hopes for this church. I forgive you – but do try to make different mistakes with your next minister.
I hope that over these 5 ½ years I have said something, that was meaningful to you, that triggered a memory, made you think, challenged you, or that was helpful to you in some small way. I leave with you my hopes for a bright future for this church, as you enter into this new period in your congregational life and history.
This good-bye is not final. I know that I will see some of you at GNOUU and district/regional and UU gatherings in the future. We will see each other again, and I’ll always be glad when that happens.
“Good-bye and farewell:” May you be protected and cared for and may your journey be safe and good -- what else can any of us offer to those we love who must leave us? What better thing is there to say if you have to depart from people you love? That is the fifth task of leave-taking, of saying good-bye, and I say it to you now with all my heart: Good-bye and farewell.