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.