The car is driving away. The phone call has been terminated. Your moving van is packed. You are boarding the plane. You are holding your grandmother’s hands and telling her how she has impacted you because you know this is the last time you will be able to look into her eyes. You are rubbing your cat’s chin for the last time and savoring every purr. Endings. Are. Brutal.
Living in Pretend Permanency
So often, we want to go through life living in pretend permanency. We don’t think about how we will feel when things end. We don’t think things will end. We think that our relationships will last forever, unchanged. We adjust to changes, we keep quiet about our discontent, we bake pies and bring gifts, all avoiding one of the most painful truths about life, it ends.
Everything ends. Your job will end. Your relationship will end. Your child’s life will end. Someday and in some way, everything comes to an end. In a way, endings are something things that connects us all. It’s an experience we all go through. As impermanent as my computer is, so is my heartbeat. How can something so painful simultaneously be the space where we connect the most?
Endings: A Potential for Divine Connection
My best friend and I broke up once. The people we had become did not align as we once did and conflict was inevitable.
We created narratives to protect ourselves. We told ourselves it was for the best, but it was awful. I toiled for years about what I could have done differently. About how I could have caused her to decide not to be my friend anymore. Even when I figured it out, it wasn’t any less painful. Figuring out what I had done wrong was my attempt to go back and change what I couldn’t. I wanted the past to be different so I could avoid or have some semblance of control over the inevitable ending. I still think of her and the memory of our relationship has shaped who I am today.
Reflecting on the end of this relationship, I can see how I didn’t speak up for myself when I should have. I can see how I prioritized my connection with her over what I knew was best for me. There were so many times, I didn’t listen to myself for fear of upsetting her or rocking the connection in an irreparable way. In the end, I got to walk away with more of myself intact despite losing the connection. And I don’t feel sad about that.
My cat– a big, orange, fluffy, fetch playing, 30-pound lob of love – died in my arms one day at a vet’s office. While I sobbed and screamed, he turned grey in front of me as I watched his angelic spirit go to a different place. When I got home, the radio was magically on. It was playing a song about better days ahead. I told myself it was my cat. I told myself he was sending me a message from somewhere else.
The story I created was to help me avoid the truth about what happened, an ending. When my stereo mysteriously comes on in the middle of the night or blasts loudly during dinner time for seemingly no reason, I know it’s Krumm, my cat, coming through to let me know he’s with me. It’s been 8 years and my cat is still the background on my lock screen. His photo reminds me that I am supported by the divine in ways I can never fully comprehend. And I feel so much joy about that.
The Most Human Thing Ever
Why are we avoiding such an inevitable part of being alive? Part of the preciousness of our existence is inherent in its impermanence. So, what makes us so keen to avoid our own aliveness?
Part of what makes it difficult to be present with endings is the messages we receive around them. We see things that end as failures. We’re subtly and sometimes directly told that if we cannot make something work, it means that we didn’t try hard enough, work hard enough, or give enough of ourselves. Sometimes if we initiate an ending, we are named “selfish” for making choices that may negatively impact other people. Endings are stigmatized. Endings are not revered. Endings are equated with a lack of control and effort.
Think about that for a moment. Something that connects us all so powerfully, is equated with “selfishness”. Something so essential to the human experience is seen as a failure. No wonder we are all working so hard to avoid these inevitable life experiences.
Think about what would happen if we all got honest about how these endings impact us. What if we told the truth about our aching hearts? Can you imagine the potential for connection with other humans if we just admit our humanity? Can you think about the potential connection to ourselves? And isn't connection what we’re all really seeking? A simple “oh gosh. Me too” really goes a long way.
A Ritual for Endings
I invite you to be honest about your losses. Even if it’s just with yourself. Even if it’s just for a small amount of time. If you’d like some guidance about where to begin, try the ritual practices offered below.
1. Write a letter to the thing you want to let go of. It could be a person, a job, a place, or a habit. Consider how your identity has been tied to this thing. Consider what you will miss about this relationship.
2. Notice what the relationship to this thing has taught you. What have you learned about yourself as you observe your interactions with this thing? Hold all those things gently and with love.
3. Reflect upon the gifts this thing has given you. What will you take with you as you move to the next chapter of your life?
4. Feel all the feelings. The grief, the anger, the confusion, maybe the relief. They are all part of this beautiful but brutal process of being alive. They are all present to let you know you are moving through your life with presence.
5. Physically let it go. Burn it, release it into the river, bury it in the earth. Return it to the earth in some way that signifies you are ready. And get ready for your next chapter to flood in.
6. Remain open to signs and signals from the world around you that this person, place, habit, companion, and the way they have impacted you will remain alive in you. This could be an animal that appears, a song that comes on the radio, an opportunity that comes your way, or a host of other things.
Just this morning, I was sitting on my porch and a herd of deer, and a large group of turkeys (a gaggle?) graced me with their presence. I’ve been moving through many endings lately and I took this magical occurrence as an indication that just because there’s lots of emotion, doesn't mean that all is not well.
We are meant to experience endings fully. We are meant to struggle through them. The meaning of these endings doesn’t come until we’re on the other side. And how we navigate the liminal space says a lot about where we are in our relationship to our own humanity.
Things We Can’t Control
It’s tempting to go back and control narratives around endings. We want our story to be “the story” of how things end. The truth is that people will create their own ideas about us when we walk away. Part of going through an ending with integrity is allowing people to have their stories. They need them. Our stories protect us from the parts of us we aren't ready to see yet.
I wish I could tell my cat how he saved my life in many ways. I wish he could know that he was the reason I kept going when I found myself in hard places. I wish I could tell my friend I wish her well. The loose ends are inherent in the endings. Endings are a reflection of life itself. Endings mirror the complexities of the things that are ending. The nature of a relationship will show itself in the ending. It’s up to us whether we make that part of the pain or part of the potential.