Saying Goodbye

“Goodbye.”

What feelings, thoughts, images, or experiences come to mind when you see that word? Depending on the context, “goodbye” can take on a lot of different meanings.

“Goodbye” can signal a temporary parting, or it can represent something more permanent. And when it represents a more permanent situation, saying goodbye can carry bittersweet feelings.

I often encounter this as a music therapist working in hospice when I attend the death of one of my patients. Many times the person who has died has been ill for a long time and their family members may feel a sense of relief that their loved one is no longer suffering.

Yet at the same time, there is a sadness because their loved one is no longer there as a physical presence- memories now take the place of a person who was once there. Or in the case where family conflicts existed, family members may be grieving the loss of what never existed.

And to look at it from the perspective of the person with a terminal illness, many things occur within themselves that involve saying goodbye. As a person becomes more ill or debilitated, they may grieve as they lose their independence, vitality, strength, mobility, cognitive ability, and speech.

As you can see, there are many “goodbyes” to be made in end-of-life care. Some things that I do as a music therapist to acknowledge these are:

  • Song choice– Giving people the chance to choose songs with lyrics that match their feelings in the present moment or that express things that they would like to say to their loved one.
  • Improvising music– Encouraging those involved to make their own music as a way to musically express their feelings. Verbally processing may or may not be used as a follow-up to this music-making, as sometimes the music helps people to find the words they need to clearly describe their experience, while other times the music captures all that needs to be said, leaving words unnecessary.
  • Song-writing– What better way to help loved ones say goodbye than through a song they’ve composed themselves? Writing a song that captures those things that need to be said between family members is an empowering experience that can result in leaving the bereaved with an unique, tangible memory to hold onto after their loved one has died.

In my own personal life, I have also used these same musical interventions when I’ve found myself in the midst of life transitions. Engaging with music in these ways has been helpful for me in being able to acknowledge, express, and move through the myriad of emotions that can come up when having to say goodbye to something that I had otherwise been expecting.

How do you acknowledge goodbyes in your own life? What are some other creative approaches you could use to process through the grief that can come up when saying goodbye? As always, please feel free to leave your comments below.