Readings on Endings

“Death is the mother of beauty.” Wallace Stevens

“We usually recognize a beginning. Endings are more difficult to detect. Most often, they are realized only after reflection.” Terry Tempest Williams

Tears lead us from loss to change. Otherwise, we may cling to a past dead beyond recall. Tears give life to the grief of endings, give them dignity and give them honor. What was, was good. What is to come is mystery. Once the tears have been shed that mark the loss, then the changes can be made that mark the new beginning. Tears give presence and power to both in life. Without tears, change may never come because the loss may never be acknowledged.
Joan Chittister

Think of it this way: the death of someone you love opens the door onto a new existential reality. Naturally, it’s a reality that you don’t want to enter, and some degree of shock, numbness, and denial are normal and even necessary in the very early days after the death. To survive, you may continue to try to push away the reality at times…. But slowly, gently, and in small doses, you must step through the door. You must open your eyes and heart to the new reality.
Alan D. Wolfelt

Endings seem to lie in wait. Absorbed in our experience we forget that an ending might be approaching. Consequently, when the ending signals its arrival, we can feel ambushed. Perhaps there is an instinctive survival mechanism in us that distracts us from the inevitability of ending, thus enabling us to live in the present with innocence and whole-heartedness. …
Experience has its own secret structuring. Endings are natural. Often what alarms us as an ending can in fact be the opening of a new journey – a new beginning that we could never have anticipated; one that engages forgotten parts of the heart. Due to the current overlay of therapy terminology in our language, everyone now seems to wish for “closure.” This word is unfortunate: it is not faithful to the open-ended rhythm of experience. Creatures made of clay with porous skins and porous minds are quite incapable of the hermetic sealing that the strategy of “closure” seems to imply. The word completion is a truer word. Each experience has within it a dynamic of unfolding and a narrative of emergence. Oscar Wilde once said, “The supreme vice is shallowness. Whatever is realized is right.” When a person manages to trust experience and be open to it, the experience finds its own way to realization. Though such an ending may be awkward and painful, there is a sense of wholesomeness and authenticity about it. Then the heart will gradually find that this stage has run its course and the ending is substantial and true. Eventually the person emerges with a deeper sense of freedom, certainty, and integration.
The nature of calendar time is linear; it is made up of durations that begin and end. The Celtic imagination always sensed that beneath time there was eternal depth. This offers us a completely different way of relating to time. It relieves time of the finality of ending. While something may come to an ending on the surface of time, its presence, meaning, and effect continue to be held into the eternal. This is how spirit unfolds and deepens. In this sense, eternal time is intimate; it is where the unfolding narrative of individual life is gathered and woven.
John O’Donohue, “To Bless the Space Between Us”

When I recognize the pain I feel because of loss, I am respectful of its presence and kind to myself. And in the truth of what has ended, I see displays of what might be beginning.
Sylvia Boorstein

I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it.
Gilda Radner

Why endings? Whether we like it or not, endings are a part of life. They are woven into the fabric of life itself, both when it goes well, and also when it doesn’t. On the good side of life, for us to ever get to a new level, a new tomorrow, or the next step, something has to end. Life has seasons, stages, and phases. For there to be anything new, old things always have to end, and we have to let go of them. Infancy gives rise to toddlerhood, and must be forever shunned in order to get to the independence that allows a child to thrive. Later, childhood itself must be given up for people to become the adults that they were designed to be.
Getting to the next level always requires ending something, leaving it behind, and moving on. Growth itself demands that we move on. Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them…
Endings are also an important factor in our personal lives. There are relationships that should go away, practices and phases that must be relinquished, and life stages that should come to an end to open up the space for the next one. A breakup, an ending of some friendships or activities, or an unplugging from some commitments often signals the beginning of a whole new life.
Henry Cloud

Sitting [meditation] enabled me to see, and compelled me to acknowledge, the role that death had already played, and still continues to play, in my life. Every living creature knows that the sum total of its pulsations is limited. As a child I wondered: Where was I before I was born? Where will I be after I die? How long is forever and when does it end? The high school student of history knew that every hero died; I saw the colors of empires wash back and forth over the maps in the books like tides. (Not me!) Where can I turn that impermanence is not the law? I try to hide from this as well as I can, behind my youth (already wrinkling, first around the eyes, and graying), and health insurance: but no hideout works.
Every day ends with darkness; things must get done today or they will not happen at all. And, funny, rather than sapping my appetite, producing “nausea,”… the pressure of nightfall helps me to treasure life. Isn’t this the most universal human observation and counsel? I aim each swing of the maul more accurately at the cracks in the oak cordwood I am splitting. I choose each book I read with precision and reason. I hear the call to care for and love my child and the forest trails that I maintain as a pure ringing note of mandate. I sit at the dawn of day and day passes. Another dawn, but the series is limited, so I swear in my inner chamber I will not miss a day.
Sitting [meditation] rivets me on the psychological fact that death is life’s door. No power can save me. Because I am aware of death, and afraid, I lean my shoulder into living not automatically and re-actively, like an animal, nor passively and pleadingly, like a child pretending he has a father watching over him, but with conscious choice and decision of what will constitute each fleeting moment of my life. I know that my petals cup a volatile radiance. But to keep this in mind in turn requires that an ordinary escapist constantly re-encounters the limit, the metronome of appreciation, death.
I sit because knowing I will die enriches, and excoriates my life, so I have to go out of my way to seek discipline and the stability that is necessary for me to really face it. To embrace life I must shake hands with death. For this, I need practice. Each act of sitting is a dying to outward activity, a relinquishment of distraction, a cessation of anticipatory gratification. It is life now, as it is. Some day this austere focus will come in very, very handy. It already has.
Paul Fleischman

End of Summer
An agitation of the air,
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.
I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones.
Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.
Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.
Stanley Kunitz

The experiences that demanded I yield control to a force greater than my will — diagnoses, deaths, unbreakable vows — weren’t the beginnings or the ends of anything. They were the moments when I was forced to admit that beginnings and ends are illusory. That history doesn’t begin or end, but it continues.
For just a moment, with great effort, I could imagine my will as a force that would not disappear but redistribute when I died, and that all life contained the same force, and that I needn’t worry about my impending death because the great responsibility of my life was to contain the force for a while and then relinquish it.
Sarah Manguso

“Death is our friend precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love…“ Rainer Maria Rilke

“Great is the art of the beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” Anatole France

Longer Reads

A philosophical exploration of the meaning of death from AEON magazine

This essay from AEON provides an intimate depiction of what it means to die well through experiences with hospice care.

From a self-help site, this article provides tips for dealing with endings gracefully.


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