Taking the “e-g-o” out of goodbye. / by Anita Cheung

Goodbyes are funny. They’re easy to pump out when we know we’ll see the person again, yet when they truly are “goodbyes” rather than “see ya laters”, they’re achingly difficult.

This year, I’ve said my fair share of goodbyes. Some that may or may not be permanent, and some that are truly permanent. I know repetition and practice doesn’t make perfect but come on, you’d think things would at least get a little easier. 


What I’ve come to recognize with each goodbye is my reluctance to acknowledge goodbyes for what they are- an ending. In a world of perpetual connectivity (oh hey there, social media), we console ourselves with the idea that nothing is forever.  After all, there are years ahead, life is unpredictable, and surely we’ll cross paths eventually. Yet, what if we don’t?


Recently, a cousin of mine passed away from cancer. He was in his mid 30s and lived in Europe for most of his life except for a year or two that he spent living with my family when I was 10. When he was in Vancouver, we grew close. And when he left, 10 year old me said goodbye as 10 year olds would- not really realizing that the last time would be the last time. For weeks before he passed away, my parents were pushing me to text him to say goodbye. I mentally made excuses- we weren’t close, I didn’t even really know him anymore, he’ll make a full recovery, etc. Eventually I messaged him and although I wish I could say I said something profound, it was more of an awkward “take care, feel better”.  A few days later, he was gone.

“Feel better?!” My sister and I joke about how we can never find the right words in situations of grief or loss but, c’mon, Anita.  Anyway, I digress. The point is, after some reflection on this goodbye and a few others from this last year, I have a hunch that this reluctance to say goodbye is tied inextricably to a fear of letting go.

For most of us, we would be ashamed to admit it but we probably wouldn’t mind if things stayed exactly as they are. We (or at least our ego) build these kingdoms we call our lives. We populate them with people we love and we decorate the walls of our castles with badges of accomplishments. Sure, venturing out on an adventure is great- when WE make the conscious decision to embark on one.  When situations are thrust upon us, there is an inherent resistance to letting go of what we’ve created. We wrap our arms tight around these kingdoms and protect them as if our lives depended on it. And here’s the thing- our lives don’t (depend on it). Our egos sure do though. Our ego wants control over this body and this life. It wants to have things. It wants to “have” people. It wants to have experiences, status, and security.  It wants to put these experiences, things and people in their respective neatly labeled Container Store boxes. Because without these boxes, it’s lost and consequently, we think we’re lost without it.


So when someone slips away from this kingdom and it isn’t part of the ego’s “plan”, it’s lost. We’re lost. Whether its’ a death or a breakup, saying goodbye is acknowledging that this is happening. 10 Year old Anita- and consequently 24 year old Anita didn’t plan for this. It’s like going into your cupboard and having a box go missing, knowing you’ll never find it again. It’s a figurative hole that starts to feel very real.


Eventually, we get over it. We find something else to fill the hole in our cupboards, another person to put in our kingdom- that is, until that person or thing disappears. And then we’re back at square one. So what’s a gal to do?

Well, the only thing left to do. Let go. Let go, time and time again.  To be honest, I don’t know if it ever gets easier. Even yogis struggle with their egos. But there really is nothing else to do. And perhaps, eventually, we can even start to let go before we’re “forced” to.  

It’s not even about “letting go to make space for something better” or “letting go because you didn’t need it”. It’s just simply learning to let go. To respect and acknowledge that nothing is truly “ours” to keep, not even this life. Eventually, we give everything back.