June 24, 2014
“You’ve had so many endings in the past few years,” my therapist said to me after I shared a disturbing dream with her. Oh yes, I thought, and many more to come. I had already been thinking about the ways my life was transitioning, and having that validated made the emotional roller coaster ride a little easier.
Her insight reminded me of a past Christmas party where the talk turned toward aging parents, death, our own aging, retirement, and our desire to “end well”. We laughingly tossed around the idea that we should all have a hand-picked committee, people who loved us and would be in charge of helping us end well, whatever that would look like. Ending well, it seemed, was an important theme to all. Not just our ending in death, but in life’s circumstances.
“Why all of this energy about ending well?” I’ve been asking myself. And then I realized that too many things in the past few years have not ended well. There are programs and ministries I’ve been a part of that did not end well. People were kept in the dark. Gossip started. Anxiety increased. Creativity decreased. A program can die a slow, painful death just like a person can. It’s awful. Surely there’s another way, I keep thinking.
People I have loved and cared about have not “ended well”. There have been firings, law suits, and betrayals. Others have stayed somewhere too long, suffering a slow death while colleagues whispered at the water cooler about what could be done to make it go faster. Still others lost their edge and began making mistakes. It seemed there was no trusted “committee” to look with compassion and kindness and to help a person end well, to end with dignity and respect in tact.
The marriages of people I have loved have had to end. Some of them ended better than others. Divorces can be as unsuccessful as marriages. The bitter, antagonistic, unconscious marriage just becomes the bitter, antagonistic, unconscious divorce. Other marriages end with compassion and dignity, without a need to control or destroy the other. With a willingness to act if not out of love at least out of respect and dignity, even a marriage can end well, if that can be an important part of the agenda.
While our Christmas party musings were filled with laughter and irony, it seems there was a good bit of helpful truth in those ideas. The paradox, it seems, is that we don’t always have control over how we end. And we do. My years of watching endings of all kinds tell me that we often end the way we live. The actual ending, the event itself, may be awful; AND, we might just respond to that ending in exactly the same way that we live our life. One of the keys, then, to ending well, is to live the way we want to end. If you live creatively and in community, you might be able to end creatively and in community. If you live isolated and mistrusting, you might end isolated and mistrusted. If you are steadfast and faithful, your ending might be steady and anchored. If you “do justice, love mercy, and walk kindly with the Lord” you might end justly, mercifully, and kindly. If you practice life in a state of denial, you might end in the same state. Sometimes it is only time that reveals the ultimate character of the ending. What is done “to you” should not determine how you end. Your response to that and the unfolding of that response over time often does.
For me, February is a month filled with the anniversaries of many endings. Today I am remembering my mother’s last days in February, eleven years ago. She made a conscious decision not to receive the chemotherapy that would make her ending harsh, that would make her inevitable, impending death a burden on the family. She allowed us to care for her and be with her and love her right through to her final passing. When she died the entire family was holding hands around her praying for a peaceful and swift end. She ended the way she lived. Selflessly. Not asking for much. Maybe not asking for enough.
All of this in no way is meant to sound like an illusion of control. More like a hope that our integrity in life matters. That what we do day to day matters. That no matter what happens or is done “to us”, our response to life’s events make a difference. That who we are and how we are is, in the end, what really matters.
Amy Sander Montanez, D.Min.
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