A Post columnist says goodbye to the paper, and half her life.
The words for this column have been slow to come. But then that’s not surprising. I’ve always struggled with goodbyes.
This is my final column for The Washington Post. I’m leaving the paper (the “paper,” #kindofsweet, no?) after 24 years. Half my life. More than half my growing up. My relationship with The Post outlasted my first marriage, and it’s older than my children. I’m tribal, and The Post has been home to most of my people. A friend recently told me that every 10 years or so, we need to repot ourselves, and I believe change can be good. But saying goodbye? That’s something different altogether. It’s an ache that eventually comes to us all.
In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself noticing things I’m going to miss about this place — though some of that feels ginned up. We just moved to this building a couple of months ago and, yes, I love the clean, new look. The huge bank of real-time monitors displaying reader numbers and news of the world is impressive. And those legendary print headlines (“Nixon Resigns!”) on those glass walls, nice! Or whatever.
But the physical space is just a vessel for the ideas, the connections, the memories. It’s home to all the personal history and all the versions of yourself that have existed in all the years you’ve been at a place. And that’s the leave-taking that makes you take a knee. It’s especially hard when you’ve still got time before walking out of the door. Saying goodbye to hundreds of people, one at a time, sometimes wordlessly as they pass, carries its own weight.
For everyone who has one foot planted and one out the door, it can feel like peeling off your old self before your new one has grown in. It can leave you feeling like a puddle of mush.
By Thursday, I was full-fledged maudlin. When an experience is too big for words, it turns into art, so there I was, in my car, singing the theme song to “Cooley High” for all New York Avenue to feel. It’s so haard, to say goodbye, to yesterday. I’ve been ignoring phone calls. Not returning emails. Staying off social media.
My coping mechanisms were obviously inadequate, so I looked on the Internet for advice on how to let go. Here’s what I found:
“It’s not the goodbye that hurts but the flashbacks.”
“8 ways a breakup can change you for the better.” That wasn’t it either.
I clicked on “40 ways to let go and feel less pain” from a site called Tiny Buddha. Some of that advice looked promising.
Focus all your energy on something you can actually control instead of dwelling on things you can’t. Yes, this is why I cut my hair, and I’ve been getting in early. Doesn’t accomplish a thing on my “off-boarding” check list but feels productive.
Express your feelings through a creative outlet, like blogging or painting. Yes, this is why I emailed Post owner Jeff Bezos to say hey, holla, bye, deuces (two-finger “peace” sign) at 3 in the morning.
Remember both the good and the bad. Even if it appears this way now, the past was not perfect. Acknowledging this may minimize your sense of loss. This catches me by the throat. Even my bad days at The Post were a privilege. It’s the place I wanted to work since the first day I heard the word “journalism.”
I read the list again, then played solitaire to quiet my mind. I went to bed and the next morning, I called Claudia Cauterucci, a psychotherapist and founder of Dynamic Meditation. She had this to say:
Goodbyes are full-on moments. “They are drenched” in emotion. The healthiest way to do it “is to truly live in the moment, but most people avoid it because it hurts. To say goodbye is to wonder if you’re going to be different, and is this the right choice,” she says. “Say yes to the release, say yes to the pain, say yes to the fear, yes to the loss of identity.”
She calls a good goodbye essential to our well-being. Because life is seasonal, and every time in our life is finite and distinct, no matter how long it lasts. The child we raise is the same one we send on their way.
A longtime colleague stopped by my desk the other day. She talked about how her girlfriends had gotten to a place where they couldn’t abide change, not in schedule, not even in their route to work.
“There is no evolution without stepping into the unknown. Period,” Cauterucci says. Goodbye is uncertain, “but it is full of possibility and that’s what you are trusting,” she says.
I run through the memories, all the years, all the late nights, all the deadlines, all the friends. The people I’ve met, and all the readers who’ve kept me company and made me feel like I have the best job in the world. I embrace it all, even as I’m letting go. I say thank you, thank you, thank you, and this is the part where I cry as I type.
After 24 years as a sales aide, news aide, reporter and columnist, Lonnae O’Neal is to become a senior writer at ESPN’s “The Undefeated,” a website devoted to sports, race and culture.
For more by O’Neal, visit wapo.st/lonnae.