Like his other classmates, the graduate had thrown his cap as high as he could. The crowd cheered and many of the smiling faces around him contained eyes filled with tears. The graduate’s heart was somehow both heavy and light. It carried the weight of the loss of the familiar and was lifted up by the possibilities of tomorrow. His mind raced between thoughts of the past and dreams of the future. If asked, he would say that he was happy, but he knew that that wasn’t the right word. Honestly, he was looking forward to what lay ahead, but in that moment, he was also aware of what was slipping into memory. As the caps fell to the ground, he was sure that life as he knew it was ending.
What happens next? Why is that the case? Where do we go from here? These questions arise when we reach an ending. Scientists ask these questions when they reach the end of the known and are left staring into the unknown. Students ask the same when they come to the end of the school year and ponder the possibilities of life after graduation. Endings are catalysts for discovery; they usher us—oftentimes reluctantly—into new lands, eras, and understandings.
To what end? This is perhaps the most important question to ask ourselves before we strike out on any endeavor. Answering this question requires us to identify our motivations, breathe life into our hopes, and define our goals. If we don’t keep an eye on the end goal we become an aimless wanderer. Living without a purpose tends to go badly over time because poor choices and tragedy are the offspring of an idle and wayward mind.
When an ending comes in the form of the death of a loved one, its permanence is striking. Someone who we may have talked with every day is no longer there; their love, encouragement, good humor, and wisdom become a part of our history. The gnawing at the hearts the grieved can be agonizing.
Deaths, even when they will remain tragic memories in our past, do not have to keep us from having hope, feeling and showing love, and being happy in our present and future. Yes, memories of a loved one lost will come with feelings of sadness, but sadness doesn’t have to be the only thing we feel. We can protect ourselves from becoming overwhelmed by sadness by investing time and energy into other areas of our life.
Good grief has boundaries. Grief without boundaries becomes bitterness and depression. When we allow ourselves to express our sadness in safe spaces, with safe people, for a safe amount of time, we are engaged in good grief. This means that we should not let our grief overcome our lives. We should honor feelings of sadness by giving them time to show themselves but we should not let those feelings grow to the point where they put an end to all things good in our lives. We need to make room for happiness and love by doing things we enjoy with the people we care about, even after a loved one passes away. When we choose to live healthy, well-rounded lives after the death of a loved one we honor our past with them by living our best in the present.
New Eras and Lessons Learned
All of us who have gone through hard times know that some endings are welcomed. It is a relief to reach the end of any trial and it is important to take note of what got us through. Too often, we forget how resilient we were during our last test by the time we are faced with another. Dark and shadowy valleys are not as scary when we remember to carry a light with us and it is the lessons we have learned and the wise counsel we follow that can brighten our path.
In the End
In this life, in this world, all things must come to an end. When wars end we cheer. When a life ends we cry. When night ends, we receive the gift of dawn. Endings are inevitable, and we should be prepared to experience their emotional highs and lows with a commitment to move forward in a healthy way.