The Importance of Ending Well

May is full of transition. So many endings intertwined with new beginnings. End of school year parties and Summer Kickoffs. Winter clothes being stored away and the tank tops and skirts reappearing in the wardrobe. Weddings. Graduations. Birthdays. Oh my!

I guess I’m realizing that May has been such a transitional month for most of my life. Probably because my life has revolved around a school calendar since I was in Kindergarten. In a few short weeks, though, I will be walking away from the academic world. Looming ahead of me is one of the biggest transitions I’ve experienced in a long time: leaving Kansas City, my career as a teacher, and setting out to find what the next season of life will look like for me.

Perhaps your twenties are one big transition, or a string of transitions, one after another. It seems everyone I know is in the midst of a transition, just recovering from one, or about to experience a big change in some way. In looking back at my blog, I realize this has been a theme in my writing—naming the struggle and the beauty of seasons of transition. As I am about to shift into this next season, it is so easy to set my focus entirely on the new. My attention is lured in by the planning, dreaming, and investing in the Up & Coming, and I lose sight of the Here & Now. I forget to look back.

I think we have a tendency, in our fast paced culture, to avoid endings. We rush into the next thing headlong, not leaving margin to process what just happened. Or we see an ending coming up and we start to withdraw, subtly and efficiently self protecting to avoid the pain of goodbye. We put such emphasis on beginning well, making good first impressions. We labor to invest in things in the midst of things even, but how often do we focus on intentionally ending well?

Ending doesn’t always mean finality, nor do we often have fairytale endings where everything is tidily resolved. But there is such a beautiful power in giving space to honor something that is coming to a close. As a society we have rituals to honor the big moments, graduation ceremonies, funerals, and retirements. But interwoven into our ordinary lives are so many beginnings and endings. Moving out of a home you’ve lived in for years, switching jobs, the end of a school year, the end of a relationship, the end of a big project you’ve been working on even—I think these endings need to be recognized as well!

bridge girl

What does it mean to end well? This is a question I’ve been pondering a lot, with so many things coming to an end in my near future. How can I honor and name what has been, and gracefully move forward in my story? I’m learning the importance of remembering what has passed with ritual, honestly grieving the losses and naming the hurt, as well as celebrating with a grateful heart.

Intention-Infused Ritual

Ceremonies and ritual has become somewhat of a lost art in our culture. It’s gotten somewhat of a bad rap, especially when rituals become an empty shell of what they were intended to be. Just going through the motions can certainly leave a bad taste in your mouth. But ritual infused with meaning and intention is a powerful thing. It integrates and engages body, mind, and spirit in the midst of community. “This is what rituals are for,” says one of my favorite humans, Elizabeth Gilbert. “We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping.”

My roommates and I have started a ritual for when someone in our home gets married (and believe me, it’s been necessary—four of the eight people I’ve lived with in the last three years have gotten married or are getting married!) We named this ritual the Fiancé Beyoncé Seancé. We all wear white and light candles up in the attic and sit in a circle. We gather up in that attic space and share a prayer or hope for the bride. We drink wine remember our time of living together and laugh. (It feels very Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets what I imagine a sorority initiation ceremony would be like.) I know what you’re thinking—this is so ridiculous. Even filled with laughter and shaking our own heads at our silly pomp and circumstance, this was a ritual that we made up to help name the end of that roommate’s time in our home and the beginning of their new life with their husband.

I’m finding myself longing for more rituals like this in my life. Wanting to mark or recognize in some way all of the monumental and even little changes that are happening all around me. I’m dreaming up simple rituals I can create for myself to mark the end of my time as a teacher. Leaving Kansas City. Saying goodbye (for now) to friends I have mad here. It might be as simple as lighting a candle and writing a goodbye letter or as elaborate as a gathering of friends with music and ceremony. There is a release that happens in our bodies when we mark important events in our lives with intentional rituals.

candle hand

Good Grief

Saying yes to something new always comes at a cost. It requires us to say goodbye to other things, and to say no to alternate options. At some point along the way, we feel the weight of our choices. We grieve the losses we chose. It’s part of accepting the limitations of being human.  As I have been thinking about things coming to a close in my life, I realized how integral grieving is in the process.

Endings are rarely the neat and satisfying denouement that we find in fairy tales. Transitions are messy, especially in relationships. And endings sometimes come from a boundary line being drawn because of that hurt or frustration. Mostly unintentionally, but sometimes on purpose, we hurt each other. It’s tempting to just try to ignore those wounds, especially in rhythm of “normal life,” but when goodbyes are looming, there is a question of what to do with myriad of emotions. I have been discovering the power and healthiness of naming those hurts. When I am honest with myself and others, rather than the easier but much more detrimental habit of pretending like everything is fine, I am able to heal faster and more fully. I need to grieve over my hurt. Colossal or seemingly silly, our pain needs to be reckoned with. Reckoned with so that we can actually feel the freedom that comes in forgiveness.

Grateful Celebration

Equally important in ending well is practicing gratitude. In many major transitions that we do recognize as a culture, we often have our sights set on what is ahead. Celebrating what is to come—a marriage, a promotion at work, a new addition to the family. These things should bring us joy and we are right to revel in them. But I think it is also just as important to celebrate what we finish as well. To create space to remember and to name the season we are leaving. And to honor what that season brought us, how it shaped us.

You know how Jimmy Fallon writes thank you letters to random things? I think I want to do something similar. To practice gratitude by writing thank you letters to not just people, but places, events, things, locations that have made my last season memorable.

Thank you, Kansas City, for being such a well kept secret of a city. I picked an incredible five years in your life to live here as you transformed into a city of dynamic growth.

Thank you, park bench where I sometimes eat my lunch when it’s nice outside. You were a refuge of quiet space in the middle of chaotic days. 

Thank you, Flute Busker that shows up at the Farmer’s Market every week and plays random notes that somewhat assemble a recognizable tune. Your unpredictable jazzy notes never failed to bring a wide grin to my face.

 Knowing that my time here is coming to a close, I don’t want to hold back my gratitude from anything or anyone. A kind of boldness comes alongside me when I know I am leaving, and I feel more gumption to say what’s on my mind. To tell people what they’ve meant to me. I want to lean into that impulse.

yoga on a cliff julia caesarRemembering

Certainly, there can be a trap of nostalgia when we look back. Being filled with wistful longing for “the way things were” is not engaging with reality. It keeps us bogged down in the past and an easy temptation to fall into when the rawness of a new season leaves us aching for the familiar.  Creating margin in the transitions to remember, name, grieve, and celebrate what was helps us process so as to move on. When we do this, we are laying the past down as a foundation, so that we can step off into the next season with open hands, ready to receive.

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