We need things to end.
Most of the time, we dread or avoid endings. They are sad, difficult, unwanted and force us to face a changed reality. But I believe that we need endings, desperately.
I have never craved an ending for a year as strongly as I have this past one and I know we are united in that. And while the world we woke up to on January 1 was not different, the ending of 2020 did mean something and we could feel it. We needed it.
Endings are important because they are certain. We can tolerate bad things more easily if we know there is an end coming. And since 1374 we’ve been quoting Chaucer’s famous line, “all good things must come to an end.” The knowledge of that ending adds incredible value to our life experiences.
I remember as a child trying to wrestle with the concept of an after-life and finding it unnerving. I secretly hoped (still do!) there would also be an ending to the after-life that we just don’t know about here. Forever is a lot to process! The concept of end-less-ness hurts my brain because without an ending it can’t be measured. You see why these are so important? They boundary us in and allow us process and use our time with greater wisdom. (Side note: while we’re on this topic I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Good Place – a wonderful TV series that deals with this VERY topic!)
Let’s look at how seeing endings as helpful events might contribute to our lives:
- Reflection: endings provide the opportunity to pause and look back over what was. We can uncover something new about ourselves, assess whether we need to make changes, and/or reflect on what we learned from that experience.
- Re-framing: an ending is an opportunity to change and start something new. Or to use the buzzword of 2020 – PIVOT! So many of us have events in our past that ended and guided us into a change that we are now grateful for. Endings give us a chance to reimagine, edit, risk, and keep finding out who we can be with a new start.
- Acceptance: this word is one of the hardest concepts to really attain. But I believe that by practicing an awareness of endings, we can help our minds and hearts be more accepting of the incessant reality of change. In turn, this gives us the opportunity to attain greater peace by holding life with looser hands.
- Balance: Nature gives us all kinds of measurements in days, seasons, moon phases, the coastline, the life and death of every thing. From the day we are born we know that the day ends and a new one comes. These are the natural rhythms of our lives.
Practicing awareness of endings:
- At the end of the day, spend a few moments reflecting on what you did. Think about the endings you experienced; was there one that was particularly difficult? One that was very much hoped for?
- Consider how many endings we experience every day. It can be helpful to see how comfortable and familiar we are with beginning again.
- Perhaps the most important practice I’ve found to help deal with endings, is to remain present to what is happening right now. I have a tendency to look back and mourn things that are over, and I often even look ahead and can begin to feel sad about an approaching ending. When I am present in my moment, my regret and dread are greatly diminished. The gift of presence is that whatever time is given to you – you are fully and intentionally using it in that moment. That leaves no room for regret later and no possibility of dreading the future.
I dearly miss the life I had prior to COVID. I believe it was that ending which has so challenged me to live better now. I prioritize people better today than I did last year. I look at my kids more and play with them in a silly way I didn’t do before. And the value of seeing a face – something I’d never considered all that special is now very precious indeed. The ending of our world as we knew it awakened in me “wrestling matches” to not waste this time but to make it worth going through.
To the griever:
I know many of you may be grieving and thinking about the end of grief. You probably know by now that there isn’t one. Grief doesn’t end because your love and connection to your loved one doesn’t end either. The physical ending of a relationship is an incredible pain. It’s not something where I can say, “it will end,” or “time will heal”. What your grief will do is change. It will change because you will change with and because of it. A new series of endings and beginnings have already started for you.
Your grief won’t end. But it also won’t hurt like this forever.
Even though the end of 2020 wasn’t the re-start we all want, it gave us a mental and emotional close to a difficult time. I really needed that. And while my hopes for 2021 aren’t off the charts, I feel launched into a much more hopeful and optimistic place emotionally and mentally.
I hope you do, too.