Sitting in the garden I’m comfortable until the sun pokes its head over the top of next doors roof. Suddenly bathed in the reflection from the whitewashed back wall it’s too hot, and it’s mid September. By now I am expecting the end of the summer but it’s clinging on. Despite the definite chill in the morning air, the familiar smell of autumn, the leaves beginning to lose both their interest and their grip, the spiders busying themselves weaving webs between indiscriminate pieces of plant and garden furniture, summer won’t go quietly. But the end will come as it always does, sometimes silent and slow, slipping away unnoticed, sometimes violent and sudden but inevitable just the same. It’s hard to know how to deal with the innumerable endings.
Wrestling the small window open onto the street in my little room the breeze half heartedly blows at the thin net curtain and we are here again, as we have been for the past three years or more. I am reminded of that first time when you had to struggle in finding the courage to even enter the building. Literally curled in a ball, holding the tension and energy that you knew neither how to control or process. In those early weeks you unfurled the most heartbreaking tales of endless struggle, gradually revealed like a film watched through fingers, and I tried as best I could to hold that precious space, to make it safe and keep it so. Preserving it at the beginning in readiness for an ending, someday.
Life is a succession of endings interspersed with jewel like beginnings. Most things come to an end of one type or another. Jobs, relationships, lives. The existential realities of what it is to be human bring abundant opportunity for crisis from nowhere, like a dreary magician pulling yet another rabbit from a tatty hat. How or even whether we deal with endings matters hugely to the impact they ultimately have on us, so I began to think about endings and some of the truths I have found in them.
Endings are rarely tidy.
As a therapist I am no stranger to untidy endings. Clients sometimes stop coming without any warning and I cycle through the same questions in my mind. “Did I miss something?”, “Weren’t you ready to go where we were headed?” “Was it me?” Natural, instinctive questions. Therapists learn that to be uncomfortable with unfinished stories is to be constantly uncomfortable, but the same untidy endings play out in our lives. We want answers to questions which don’t materialise, we look with hindsight on painful endings and berate ourselves for failing to act differently, or just be different. We want everything to end as we would wish, if it really must end. But truthfully, a tidy ending is such a precious rarity, so might we be able to temper the optimistic expectation of something different and easier?
Endings are often dissatisfying.
It’s hard for an ending to suit everyone. When something significant ends we cannot help but leave a part of us behind in the world which existed before. Essentially we live in two worlds when we are hurt by an ending, the world where things stay the same, where the situation plays out as we would like it to, where there is no end, and this is the world we want. The other world is the one where things happen as they do, merciless and ignorant to our desires and uncaring of the impact of having them denied. If we cannot make things as we would have them in the world we want, and we do not accept them as they are in the world that is, we will suffer. That suffering continues until we either emotionally accept the realities or we are able to change them. The former is usually hard and takes time, and the latter is often impossible.
Some endings are easier when you take responsibility for them.
A client who has been in an affair for more than five years is sinking and I watch it play out. Unable to end a situation which causes him constant shame for fear of the pain he anticipates as a result, whichever way he moves he expects devastation. Then something shifts, without visible warning, but prompted perhaps by another seemingly unrelated ending in his life. He takes the decisions that have been so necessary and everything changes with only the slightest of alterations. It is as if, standing with his face turned to a howling blizzard for years, he simply moves his body forty five degrees and the impact is instant, because not only is he more shielded from the bitter weather but he now has a new perspective. It’s often true that taking a decision to create an ending feels ultimately very little like the disaster you imagined it would, even though you might need to walk through unimaginable pain to get there.
How you feel about endings matters.
In a session with my supervisor she asks me a question. “How do you deal with endings in your life?” I am struck by the fact that I deal with endings in one way or another almost every day but rarely think about how they effect me. After a while I offer some thoughts. I used to struggle much more with them than I do now. I used to avoid them even when I knew they were necessary. Endings always represented the death of something rather than the opportunity of some sort of new life. At its worst I would chase after an ending like a child racing after a red balloon caught in the breeze. Sometimes I would nearly touch its thin string and reach out, but just as I did the wind would laugh and yank it from me. This is how I thought of endings and experience has shown me I am not alone. Now though, I have begun to realise that endings are important, they make space, they give an opportunity for reflection, for learning. What was perhaps most illuminating of all was to find that an ending can be incredibly sad and painful yet still provide the foundation for something beautiful. More than that I learned that it is not necessary to to see what that beauty will be, but simply to trust that it will emerge in time.
This morning you come in and sit on the floor as you always do, but everything is altered. So much has changed and, most importantly, you have changed it. There were many days in these three years when both of us wondered if you would break out but we both hoped with all we had that you would. These are the endings which are so rare and precious. The ones where it is possible to acknowledge everything which has gone before, the sharing of a culmination which only you and I can understand in full knowledge that something is ending and that it has the potential to be unimaginably wonderful. It is a privilege when anyone lets me into their life, but to be part of such a turbulent but ultimately triumphant journey is hard to describe.
Traveling home I know we are in the final hours of summer. The seasons transition perhaps the most common of endings and yet the most potent reminder of how beautiful they can be. Yes, we leave moments behind us that were of great value, but it is only because we have experienced them, that we have lived through another ending, that we are able to carry them forward into the next beginning.