How I Learned The Truth About Life, Death And The Spaces In Between

Suzanne GelbFirst, he was my teacher.

He guided me to give birth to myself emotionally — to transition from feeling empty, conflicted and loveless to feeling whole, at peace and in love with my life.

Then, he became my friend.

After I “grew up” emotionally, we enjoyed a wonderful friendship — supporting each other no matter what, with lots of laughter, and so much kindness and respect.

And then, he was my colleague.

The dynamic combination of our male and female energies was incredibly powerful as we co-counseled clients, sharing with them all that he had taught me — which actually reflected all that he had learned from his own mentors. A beautiful lineage of so many teachers, so many gifts.

And then, he was dying.

At age 78, my teacher, colleague and best friend in the entire world was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

We were determined to beat it — and we were successful, for about a year. But then, it caught up with him. His body could no longer stand up to the onslaught of rogue cells. He quickly declined.

And then, he died.

It was a Saturday, around 6pm. Halloween. Which is fitting because he has a history with spirits. One of the many amazing facts about my truly amazing friend. A story … for another time.

At the time that he passed, a friend and I were holding him close.

Moments before, he’d had some congestion as he lay in the bed, so we thought it would be best to sit him up on the edge. He was too weak to hold himself up. That’s why my friend and I each took one of his arms and gently guided him into a sitting up position.

His eyes were closed, and he looked so peaceful.

I said to my friend, “Isn’t he beautiful?”

I didn’t mean it in a superficial way. There was a type of beauty emanating from him, the likes of which I had never seen before.

Then I said to my friend, “Is he breathing?”

My friend — a retired law enforcement officer of 21 years — had seen death many times on the job. He knew what to do.

“Let me check his pupils,” he said.

We laid him down and my friend checked. He looked up at me, eyes filled with tears. “He’s gone.”

At that moment, I actually felt relief. For my teacher, for me, for both of us.

But after that first rush of relief came a different emotion.

Agonizing grief.

Because I never really, officially, totally … got to say “goodbye.”

Despite all that time spent together, we’d never really talked about the fact that he was dying. We talked about other things. Lots of things. Practically everything. But we never had a conversation that felt like “resolution.” We never exchanged words that felt like “goodbye.”

Some small, childlike part of me felt rejected, abandoned, betrayed … like I’d been “stripped” of my “right” to say goodbye, in the way that I wanted to say it.

In my grief, I was transported back to my childhood in South Africa, when friends were taken away by the police during the night, and I never saw them again. Never got to say “goodbye.”

Years passed. I healed. Mostly, but not totally.

Until one day, my teacher returned … with one final lesson.

It was three years after he’d passed. I was having a tough day, missing him deeply, and decided to do some free-association writing — where you just let your thoughts randomly pour out on the paper, uncensored, unedited.

In writing, I asked my departed friend, for the millionth time,

“Why didn’t you say goodbye? Why didn’t you let me say goodbye?”

And finally, I was ready to hear the truth.

Because what appeared on the paper, as I watched the pen in my hand form the words, was perhaps the greatest lesson my teacher ever taught me:

“There are no goodbyes, there is only forever.” (Click to tweet)




Dr. Suzanne Gelb believes that in order to change your life for the better, you must love yourself more — not less. She’s been called “the one to turn to when nothing else has worked,” and as a psychologist + coach, she strives to be the last one you’ll ever need.

Suzanne’s powerful insights have been featured on more than 200 radio programs, 80 TV interviews, and too many articles to keep score. Step into her virtual office at and discover how to like + respect yourself, just a little bit more.

  • Carolyn

    Thank you, Suzanne. I just lost my Dad and felt badly that we had never said our good byes. I knew he loved me and he know that I loved him but that closure never happened. Thank you for your comforting words.

    • Thank you for sharing, Carolyn. My heart goes out to you for your loss. I’m deeply honored if my words brought a little comfort to your day.

  • powerful, thank you

  • Hero Enrique

    yep-p cuz whole uni-vewse inside ouw mind, no weason to miss something not lost

  • AM

    The body changes, the mind even changes as do attitudes, but the soul and our connection to the ‘oneness’, to ‘love’ is eternal. It is just tough being the one ‘left living’!

    • Hi AM: My teacher always taught that life is a privilege. A challenge, yes, but self-love gets us through. Have a beautiful day. 🙂

  • Lorna

    What a powerful story. I really like the idea of your teacher/friend/colleague being able to communicate with you and tell you, “There are no goodbyes, there is only forever.”

    • We all have the ability to be open + receptive to that type of communication – such a beautiful opportunity to share and hear the truth.

  • Ron

    Thank you for such a touching and heartfelt article. Your story brought tears to my eyes, a warm glow to my heart and serenity to my mind

    • Thank you, Ron. Tears, a warm glow, and serenity ~ such a precious combination.

  • Linda

    That was so beautiful… Thank you for sharing your story. I have spent much of my life trying to avoid the feeling of grief and loss. “Forever” is a comforting and reassuring way to see that time of saying goodbye.

    • Love is forever. Our essence is Love. Which means we are forever.

      What we miss is the physical presence of those who have transitioned. But when it comes to Love, they are ever present.