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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ending Well

This is an interesting time of year.  There are many new beginnings, with something fresh coming up in the garden almost every week.  But it is also a time of endings.  School years, graduations, and programs that have run since September are winding down.

This week my daughter had her last day of school.  Last week I participated in the Memorial Service of a cherished mentor.  Later this summer a friend is moving.   All of them endings of one kind or another.

Ending well matters for many reasons. Management expert William Bridges once said “In my work I see teams, departments and sometimes entire companies fall apart because they never found a way to grieve over a significant loss.” (Managing Transitions, p. 26)  Ending well is the first step toward whatever is going to come after the ending.

Clearly ending a school year and grieving a beloved family member is not the same thing. There are risks to generalizing.  But all are kinds of endings, and I see some similarities.  Here is a start:

1. Ending well means acknowledging pain:  Ending usually hurts.  There are good times to celebrate that will be missed.  There are people who have been important that we will not see.  Something that once had meaning for us will no longer be there.  Even if the event or person has been challenging, there is a lot of ourselves we have put into the experience.  Sometimes there is the acknowledgement that dreams we thought would come into fruition have not.  Endings are about limits, something we humans generally find painful.

2. Ending well means expressing gratitude:   Often our gratitude is obvious—students can give thanks for teachers and what they have learned; mourners can give thanks for the time they had with their loved one; laid off employees can give thanks for what their experiences have taught them.  The beloved friend I am missing used to say “Nothing is wasted.”  God can use any experience, even the hard ones.  There is much to grateful for.

3. Ending well creates space for what is next:  Ending well is really the first step for what comes next.  Releasing something or someone means that are hands are now free to receive whatever is the next call.  We will be more open to the next job, next relationship, next task if we have lived fully into our goodbye.

Just one example:  A group of Lumunos folk who have put on a conference every year for the past 30 or so are wondering if the time has come to stop meeting.  So there is an email exchange happening as they process this important moment.  This morning I was moved to read these words from the unofficial chaplain of the group:

Pictures of their faces come to mind as I write. I remember once feeling like I was walking alongside one unknown, whose life was really a death, hidden cave-like behind boulders of guilt and shame. There is life in this person now, an identity acknowledged and accepted, that was birthed in the FAW/Lumunos community. I've witnessed literally hundreds of faces, bearing the pressures to keep life afloat, loose those marks; replaced by the glow drawn from the flow of the Spirit moving through our small groups. I cherish those memories and celebrate those lives..

 And I'm grieving those faces I won't see again until we eat together at the table our Lord is preparing for us all. My sense is my call is to say good bye. Goodbye to a community and a process that gave me a place. A safe place to love and be loved. If the time has come for us all to bid good bye to this weekend in February, then the time has come for me to thank all of you for making it all happen.

Did you hear it?  Acknowledgment of pain.  Expression of gratitude.  And the realization that saying goodbye is a kind of call in its own right.  One that makes room for a new call.

What else makes for ending well?

Doug Wysockey-Johnson
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  1. Thank you for speaking a word that is so needed in today's world. Much is changing and there is pain that needs to be acknowledged, gratitude that yearns to spoken, and preparation for whatever the Holy One is calling us to next. Thank you for putting words to feelings and thoughts associated with loss. Suzanne Adele Schmidt

  2. Ending well can be enhanced by preparing for the change. I savor the time I have with the people prior to the change happening. I journal something significant to me about each person that I will no longer see. I also include photos. In the process of preparing for the change, I find the ways to say thank you and to let go. At the end of every change I plan a mini-retreat or quiet days for myself so I can open up to that new call or opportunity. I am trying not to rush the change, but be present to it.

    I'd considering Beginning well
    * acknowledge fear of the unknown (apprehension)
    * express gratitude
    * slowly use the space with refinement of the call....
    Closed door...open window...so much of my life is this!

  3. How timely this article is for me. Today 06/17/10 I spent two hours with a therapist processing unfinished business related to my son's death in May of 2009 and my husband's death February 2010. I am beginning a new relationship, but knew I must bring more resolution to those who died before I could move forward either emotionally or physically. The emotional baggage would go with me even if I moved physically and I knew that. Now I am ready to move.

  4. Pat: I give you great credit for doing the hard work of ending well. And a good reminder from you that ending well is not a quick, one time process.

  5. I tried a post but it tooks wings into cyper space somewhere, anybody else have this experience?

  6. I wanted to add that ending well also means embracing something new. When we let go of something we've loved, like our Feb. conference, we always find something else already present. Even if it's a feeling of "emptyness", that is something. It's never a literal "nothing."

    So ending well means choosing something new to hold in that space. If it was someone or something we loved, like our Feb. conference, then when we let it go, we give up our expectations and hopes for it as well. For me, giving up our Feb. conference means giving up my anticipation of again experiencing "Spirit made community," Faces and hearts connected. Both displaying a fortaste of the glory that is to be ours. Not our usual "world made community," faces without hearts on display.

    It means not hearing again stories that connect me to my story. And show me that our story is a part of a long, immeasurably larger, incredible story of God's coming community already taking shape now. A community where sin, death and evil is no more. A lasting community where tears, not us, all pass away. A community I once glimsed as we sang, "He's already here." Ending well means choosing a new hope. And this is the hope I choose.