Thursday, May 23, 2013

Endings

I've been thinking about endings, about saying goodbye, about closure.  What makes an ending a "good" ending?  What makes a "complete" goodbye?  What gives a person a sense of real closure?  Or more importantly, what gives a sense of peace around an ending?

The best endings, the best and healthiest grievings, come when people can say all they need to say - tell their loved one how much they are loved, apologize for any harm done, work through any misunderstandings and pain, and bless each other as each takes a separate journey forward.  That is the best ending, and I've watched people sit at the death-beds of those they love and give them that time, that attention, that care.  I've listened as they've said "I love you.  I'm sorry for any way that I have hurt you.  And I give you permission to let go."  And I've watched the healing come as people say goodbye with love, with resolution.  They still grieve.  They still mourn, but it is a healthy mourning that moves into a new way of being in relationship to their loved one.  They let the other go, in a true and deep way that leaves room for a different kind of connecting, and a peace on both sides.

But I've also witnessed endings that were not so whole or healthy.  I've heard words from dying lips (rare, but it happens) that were full of anger or judgment or correction.  And maybe the person who left then feels better because they have nothing left unsaid on their hearts (though I would doubt it - my guess is this would add feelings of guilt, too), but it leaves the one remaining to struggle and grieve and try to work through the pain without an easy way to move towards being at peace with the loss, or feeling reconciled with the other.  In those cases, grief is harder.  Even when they know there is nothing they can do, no way to "fix" it, it can be hard to let go of those feelings that more should have been tried, more should have been done, more should have been said (or that less should have been said!).  This is especially true when there is no opportunity to say goodbye at all, when the loss is sudden and unexpected, or when a person is denied the opportunity to say goodbye.  I know one family, for example, in which a parent and adult child were estranged.  When the parent died suddenly and unexpectedly, the adult child could not let go of his feelings of guilt and pain that he had not tried to mend the relationship before his mother died, that he did not try to reconcile while he had the chance.

In those cases, how do we move forward?  I believe that even when people have died, there is a spirit of that person that we can connect with.  I believe that when relationships are broken either through death or through any other means, that there is still a spirit of goodness in each of us that we can connect with, with God's help.  We can connect through prayer.  We can connect through writing letters that we don't even have to send.  We can connect by asking God to help us reconcile even when it is not possible to do this directly.  We can connect by sending loving thoughts and energy towards the other.  Beyond reconciliation, there are also ways to say goodbye.  Memorial services help.  When it is a relationship rather than a person that has died, we can still hold a memorial service, or do a ritual that helps us move on, either by ourselves or with the support and care of others.  I was very blessed to have a small group honor my marriage and its passing two months ago.  That ritual time and support was an amazing and deep gift for me.

Additionally, I have a bowl of glass stones that have the names of people on them for whom I am praying - I pray for those who are sick or injured or struggling, I pray for those who have passed and their families, I pray for relationships (whether they continue or have ended) that need reconciliation in some way.  I pray, and then I listen for anything God would have me do.  And those prayers move me.  Sometimes they move me to take a person out of my prayer bowl and simply turn them over to God.  Other times I feel a call to phone the person, write to the person (even if they have passed, this is helpful), or simply let them go.

But I hand this back to all of you now...what do you do to find peace in endings, to bring reconciliation when there is no longer possibility for connection?  What are things that you do to bring a sense of closure, especially when endings are not as clean or tidy as we would choose for them to be?  Where is God in your endings?