Breakfast in Bed by Mary Cassatt, oil. 1894

Lately I have found that integrating expressive arts (writing, poetry, music, art, movement) into the therapeutic process of healing has been most effective in creating aha moments, or moments of breakthrough.

Today, I share with you this thought provoking piece on goodbyes by the Jesuit Fr. James Donelan, together with this beautiful painting “Breakfast in Bed” by my favorite American artist, Mary Cassatt. May it speak to your heart on this lovely Saturday morning.


by Fr. James F. Donelan, S.J.

Goodbyes have always been an inspiration to poets, and what has caught their poetic fancy most is the contradictory nature of the experience. Emily Dickinson says partings are all we know of Heaven, and all we need of Hell. Shakespeare’s Romeo puts it simpler: Partings, he says, are such sweet sorrows. We smile through our tears and cry through our laughter.

But goodbyes are more than sentimental moments. They are one of nature’s sacraments–sacraments in that they involve a mystery, an insight into the heart of things. There is a mystery involved in going away, in that simple experience of saying goodbye that touches each one of us, sometimes lightly, sometimes heavily.

Goodbyes reveal something about the meaning of our lives, the great tides that rise and fall, the joys and sorrows that inundate our hearts at different moments of our lives. We may hate goodbyes but we cannot avoid them because they put us in touch with something fundamental about ourselves–our rootedness in time and place.

Going away reminds us of our uniqueness, our identity, and how it depends on certain people. Our hearts have many anchors, but when the great tides call us to catch the wind and sail away, we will be missing life itself if we fail to go.

True, it is hard to say farewell, especially the milestone goodbyes of our life–leaving home, leaving country. But part of maturity lies in realizing that there is no genuine growth in life that doesn’t gather us together and lead us to a point where we pull apart to find out who we are and what we must do with our lives. It is hard especially for parents to allow those we love their private places to be sad and to cry, to be lonely, to experience sorrow and defeat. Yet, going away is our daily spiritual bread. If we don’t recognize that, then we haven’t completely grown up.

The great secret, of course, that lies at the heart of the mystery is that saying goodbye or allowing others to be free to do so never truly separates us from what we have known and loved and shared. We can lose material things by separation, but absence only increases love.

The feeling we experience when we say goodbye adds to, rather than takes away from, our experience of life. And because we have had the courage to travel deep into love’s mystery of going away, we can one day celebrate the joy of coming together again. And so life goes on, strengthened and encouraged by the hope and promise of reunion.

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