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How to say goodbye to someone you love

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Saying goodbye to a loved one can be tough, especially if you're parting ways for good. But grief counselor and patient advocate Isabel Stenzel Byrnes says the art of saying goodbye can and should be learned and practiced. It's knowledge she gained from a lot of personal experience. Life Kit's Andee Tagle has more.

ANDEE TAGLE, BYLINE: Isabel Stenzel Byrnes was born with cystic fibrosis, a progressive illness that damages the lungs and other organs. Her identical twin sister, Anabel, was born with the same condition.

ISABEL STENZEL BYRNES: She was my sidekick, my soulmate, my best friend, sometimes my archenemy, just because that's what sisters are. And we shared a life that was very unique because of our genetic illness.

TAGLE: The pair were in and out of hospitals constantly and faced a lot of pain and struggle. They, of course, were afraid of death.

STENZEL BYRNES: But we also shared a joint passion for life, knowing that our time could be limited. We knew from an early age that one of us would die first, and we actually practiced that.

TAGLE: In 2013, Anabel died of cancer.

STENZEL BYRNES: The finality and the complete separation of someone as close as my twin was very difficult.

TAGLE: But all the time they'd spent preparing for that final goodbye helped Byrnes better manage her grief.

STENZEL BYRNES: I pursued things that made me feel close to her. I also strengthened my relationships with friends and family and, of course, my spouse. And that really helped me kind of dig myself out of the hole of grief.

TAGLE: Today, Byrnes is a grief counselor and patient advocate who uses her own experience to help others work through the pain of loss. It's a difficult process, she says, but it can also offer a lot of beauty.

STENZEL BYRNES: The other side of the coin of saying goodbye is how to love and love stronger and harder, knowing that a goodbye can come at some point in time.

TAGLE: If you're lucky enough to get to prepare a farewell, Byrnes says there is an art to a thoughtful goodbye. Start by recognizing the particular role that person has had in your life.

STENZEL BYRNES: We all have intersections in our lives where we spend time, you know, really good time, really valuable time with people, and to articulate the the value and the importance of that intersection can be really meaningful.

TAGLE: Aim to be as open and specific as possible.

STENZEL BYRNES: Thank you for impacting me. Thank you for teaching me. Thank you for being part of this journey at this company or during this time of my life.

TAGLE: Of course, that kind of vulnerability isn't always easy. Maybe you're big on the Irish exit or being overly casual in your partings to avoid the awkwardness of intimate conversation.

STENZEL BYRNES: But doing it anyway is what helps us grow as human beings. Sometimes writing a letter can be easier. A text or expressing oneself in a written form can be easier.

TAGLE: If you don't have the luxury of getting to say goodbye face to face or in real time or at all, Byrnes says you could and should still partake in your own rituals to acknowledge your grief.

STENZEL BYRNES: And it might be something, you know, reflective and solitary - sitting at the beach, talking out loud, message in a bottle, whatever it is.

TAGLE: Finally, Byrnes says, no matter where you are in your grief, believe that you can weather the storm.

STENZEL BYRNES: Trust that we will have the confidence to cope with whatever comes our way. And to, you know, have that faith in oneself and one's path in life is really important.

TAGLE: For NPR's Life Kit, I'm Andee Tagle.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCAMMON: For more tips and advice from Life Kit, visit npr.org/lifekit.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andee Tagle (she/her) is an associate producer and now-and-then host for NPR's Life Kit podcast.
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