honoring the end as much as the beginning


Silver bells from our tree lined up after we took them down on 1/3/16.  Time for some silver polish?

On January 3rd, we took down our tree.  I woke up that morning and went for a run during a glorious sunrise, and then came home to a regular morning of coffee, laundry, and, eventually, ornament removal.  And all morning I felt sad.  Really sad.  Like, sitting in the chair by myself with tears rolling down my face sad.

I couldn’t get out of my own way.  Our tree was coming down, and we were wrapping up another Christmas.  Our 14th as a family, our 11th as a family of four.  I’m a nostalgic person, prone to melancholy – we’ve established that – but this sorrow was unusually acute, even for me.  How many more years do we have when the children will relish the quiet, slow week at home with us between Christmas and New Year’s?  How long until they no longer embrace enthusiastically our family traditions, like celebrating New Year’s Eve as a family of four?  I’m not a fool.  I know these days are numbered.

It was my wise friend Julie Daley who gave me words for what I was feeling.  On Instagram she noted that what I was doing was honoring the ending of something, and she said that always carried grief with it.  Her words hit me with the force of a sledgehammer.  Yes.  That’s precisely it.  I’m a porous person, that’s not news to anyone who knows me, but still, sometimes I’m bewildered by how bittersweet this life can be and by how much loss is contained in every single day.

Even as I write this I realize how tiny this goodbye is.  Everyday life is full of farewells, and if we’re fortunate, they’re mostly small.  I thought of my friend Lisa often during this Christmas season, a friend who walked with all of us who knew her right to life’s final farewell.  Her courage in that process astonishes me still.  I suspect it always will.  Bidding goodbye to another holiday is a huge privilege, of course, compared to her experience.  Compared to anything real.  I know that.  Trust me, I do, and still, I’m sad.

But I’ve been musing over this notion now for weeks, the concept of honoring the ends of things.  The idea that the end is as sacred as the beginning, while something that feels deeply true to me, also seems somehow counter-cultural in American life, with our quasi-obsession with newness and the start of things.  I think of a vase of flowers, drooping and faded, or of those who are elderly, or of even the darkest, end days of the year.  All of these things make me feel some vague sense of unease, but as I get older I also recognize their particular beauty.

I think also of Whit’s off-the-cuff comment, one I think of almost daily, that Grace gets the firsts, but he gets the lasts.  How true that is.  And both are vital, essential, powerful. We are marked and shaped as surely by the beginnings of things as we are by their end.  The start of something (birth being the most fundamental example) is holy, no question about it, but so too is the end (death, here, in this analogy).

Despite our societal discomfort with endings – and my own – I think witnessing the individual losses and farewells and losses is crucial to fully living this life.  At least, for me, there’s no other choice.  So thank you, Julie, for helping me understand the grief that is so much a part of my daily experience. It is this: honoring the ends.  I don’t love how this sorrow feels as it courses through my days, but I feel certain that it makes the joy more vivid.

13 thoughts on “honoring the end as much as the beginning”

  1. “I feel certain that it makes the joy more vivid.” Yes. I know it sounds odd, but I can see that clearly as the tears roll down your cheeks.

  2. I’ve been trying to name this sadness that’s been washing over me lately as my daughter approaches her 9th birthday and seems to leave behind her little self more swiftly now than ever before. And now, thanks to you and Julie, I realize I’m honoring the end of her “little” years. This is a relief as I’ve wondered if I’m slipping into madness. Quite often I have to literally tell myself to get a grip as the tears flow down my face. I also think, as you noted, the seasonal timing of these emotions is no coincidence. Thank you for this. xo

  3. So perfectly put. Yes…I love the idea of “honoring the endings,” as I, too, as you know, tend to grip a bit too tightly to the moments as they pass. Thank you, and Julie, for this framing. xo

  4. This post feels like it comes from my own heart. I am nostalgic and prone to melancholy at time’s passage, but I truly believe in the need to honor endings. Maybe it’s because of my mom’s sudden death and how much cyclical grieving I’ve done over the past eight years. Instead of wondering, what’s wrong with me, why can’t I get past this sadness, I allow myself each and every grief. I agree that our culture doesn’t honor it, but posts like this show the need and benefit of giving our grief space, no matter the size or scope.

  5. Wow. These thoughtful, true, heartfelt words just seeped into me, finding the spaces of grief I carry both as pieces of my singular life and as one of many humans on this big globe of life. Thank you so much for framing these ideas so coherently. They feel honoring of life’s reality and scope, and honoring of a sensitivity to this. big hugs of appreciation.

  6. I am swimming hard in these waters now. Both my babies are graduating from high school this June. The transition we are in is painful and sweet and tears always at the brink (mine anyway). One thing that’s been hard for me (since they were born) is that there’s only one first/last time for everything with them. And whatever it is, it’s doubled. The intensity is hard on my also overly porous heart.

  7. My son, 7, was so sad to take down the tree. His tears were startling as I realized he is so like me. Sad when things end or transition.

  8. It’s good to acknowledge and honour these feelings at times of transition, but every ending holds the seeds of a beginning and encountering that which does not change is the root of all wisdom.

  9. Lindsey,

    That was such a beautiful moment when we connected over your photo and words. I could feel your grief and sadness, and your sharing caused me to feel and think back to those years when my girls were young and my husband was still alive, those moments of beauty forever etched in my soul. I love what you’ve shared here as a way to deepen what you have come to see about endings and grief and, yes, the bittersweetness of life. You have the ability to put into words these profound experiences we can have as human beings living on this planet at this time.

    With much love, Julie

  10. Thank you for sharing this. Very timely for me, as I contemplate lots of endings and beginnings. The grief of leaving my beloved city for pastures new has hit me this week. And while I’m excited to move and explore somewhere new, the grief hurts and aches and demands my attention. Today I decided that I want to be the last person in the empty flat, I want to lock the door and say goodbye, even though I could ask someone else to do it. It feels important that I feel fully, rather than numbing around the edges. Thank you for putting words to something I’m experiencing too.

  11. “I don’t love how this sorrow feels as it courses through my days, but I feel certain that it makes the joy more vivid.” YES. I am with you, sister. Thank you for putting this into words so eloquently. xoxo

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