‘The Art Of A Graceful Ending
We don’t do endings well in this culture. Life proceeds ahead for us in distinct “chapters”, such as childhood, adolescence, parenthood, old age, ect. And so, we are constantly in a state of transition from one chapter to the next. Yet, we often do not take note of when one stage has ended, and another has begun. Sometimes we do take note of the beginning of a new stage of life—marriage for example, or graduation. We celebrate these events because we like it when new things begin. It seems to me, though, that we don’t so much like it when things end. Paradoxically, something must always end in order for a new thing to begin, but we don’t focus so much on this. Note, for example that Graduations are called “Commencements”. Even though a graduation marks the ending of something, we focus instead on the beginning of something else. Isn’t this odd?
It seems to me that “Endings”, in our culture are frequently cast in a dark light….the end of innocence…the end of childhood…the end of a marriage…the end of an era…the end of life. Emphasis is placed on “moving on”, and/or “getting over it”. Maybe this is just another manifestation of our “youth” culture. We like things that are “young”, “fresh’’ and “shiny new”. We often think that when things end, it must mean that there has been a “failure” of some sort. What “wrong” thing has happened to make it so that this thing must now end? A job ends. A marriage ends. Who or what is to blame for this “failure”? This “mindset” takes over even when we know that “all things must end”
I submit that endings do not have to “play out” in this dark and negative way. An ending can be a beautiful, honorable, and graceful thing. A graceful ending paves the way for a new beginning to emerge without the “baggage” of a “bad” ending. Case in point was my sister Nancy’s passing from pancreatic cancer several years ago. The fact that she had to die was enormously painful for my sisters, my father, and her children…but the way she died was nothing short of beautiful. What I noticed is that all family members came together at the end. We were there for her and we were there for each other. We honored and celebrated her constantly, and we openly grieved with her and each other. We said goodbye. Nancys memorial service was “A Celebration” of her life in which her essence was evoked. Nancy’s final gift to me was in showing me that we can do endings well…thank you Nancy.
In contrast to this I think of the way marriages often end, at least many of the marriages I have known. One partner wants to move on, and generally wants to move on fairly quickly. The other partner may be “dumped” with very little explanation, and without any attempt to honor the years of marriage, the family which has been built, the experiences shared. Even when marriages end by more mutual agreement, they still seem to end with very little fanfare. Is this not the “mother” of all bad endings in our culture?…leaving behind as it does a veritable wreakage of bad feeling and trauma. Why can’t the ending of a marriage be the same as the ending of a life… as I experienced it with my sister? Doesn’t this ending deserve the same careful attention to all parties involved, and some attempt to understand what this theoretically “sacred” relationship was all about?…Why not have a “Celebration of the Marriage” event? Why not have a period of “mourning” after the end of a marriage as we do with a death?..
So, that’s how I would change things. We would have designated periods of celebration and/or mourning after all major endings in life…some kind of ritual at least…something! What do you think?? It’s at least a start towards necessary healing…and the beginning of paving a healthy foundation upon which to write the next chapter