When things don't end well
Before you read any further, I want to make one thing clear. I am not a Trump supporter. I have very strong feelings about how he abused his power. But I do like to try and put myself in other people’s shoes on occasion. I try to imagine what they are thinking or feeling. And surprisingly, I have been able to muster a little bit of empathy for him. A little.
I’ve been thinking about endings this week. I’ve often read, taught and written about ending well. I’ve thought about my legacy. I’m not alone. Over 25 million copies of The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People have been sold. You may know that one of the seven habits is ‘begin with the end in mind.’ I think legacy and beginning with the end in mind are worthwhile considerations.
So I found myself thinking about Trump’s term and how it has ended. We can probably all agree, regardless of political leanings, that the Presidency didn’t end the way anyone wanted it to end. Trump made it clear he didn't want it to end. The people voted that he was done.
And I've been thinking about a closer to home ending this week. A dear friend of mine is dealing with the tragic death of her son. It’s not a good ending. It’s painful. This type of loss is devastating and compounded by pandemic restrictions. It’s layers of grief. It’s not what anyone wanted.
And as I’ve thought about endings, I’ve thought about some of the painful endings I’ve experienced. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a romantic relationship end, but I can recall some really intense, drawn-out break-ups. It took me two years to finally sever the ties to my first love. I’ve had friendships breakdown and blow up. I’ve had them drift as well. I’ve been fired (once). I’ve quit. I’ve run away. I’ve dodged and avoided.
The most painful ending for me was when my husband got fired from the church he was leading. It was downright nasty. And devastating for our family. We lost our community, work, friendships and future all at once. In religious communities, you are in or out. The hurt we experienced and the hurt we caused, in turn, left us wounded for years. It did not end well. Wrapped up in that hurt were feelings of betrayal. I am always thankful for the advice someone gave me that betrayal can takes years to heal from.
We've all had to reconcile an ending that didn't unfold the way we hoped it would, even if we began with the end in mind. The truth is that we don’t always want to have ending conversations upfront. We don’t like to think about endings. If we did - everyone would have a prenuptial agreement. We prefer to be optimistic about our relationships and commitments. We want the happily ever after. We enter into things believing they will work out. Most of us are risk-averse, and we don’t go into something unless we are convinced it will go well. It's always easier to start something than to end it.
It’s not always possible for things to end well. Sometimes you have no control over how something ends. You get fired, there is an accident, you get sick, someone you love gets sick, people we care about die and a pandemic changes everything.
We talk about messy middles. Well, endings can be messy as well. They can break us open. And in that breaking open we can eventually find new beginnings. Sometimes in the midst of your own pain and hurt, you retaliate or make choices that you might not have made when you felt healthy and supported in your life.
You may have tried to avoid an ending, so you sucked it up and went along with what was happening. You delayed a difficult conversation. You ignored your own gut feelings because it seemed too hard to leave. I’ve spent a lot of time exploring what it takes for people to walk away from fundamentalist religions. It’s complicated to walk away from a situation when it means you are losing relationships and security. In fact, we can struggle to end, returning again and again before we finally make the break.
Bad endings are not the end of the whole story. And your messy endings don’t need to define you. They may be the end of a chapter. They may be the end of a very significant part of your life. You may feel traumatized and hurt. You may feel shame. You will experience grief. And you may never be able to reconcile what happened fully.
There is a difference between endings and closure. Even when something doesn’t end well, you can still get closure. It will take time to get to this place. It may be years after the divorce, death, betrayal or loss before you find yourself here. You can create a ritual to reconcile what happened in your past and let it go.
It’s something I’ve thought a lot about. For me, I had a fire with a couple of friends. We all brought things that symbolized the loss. Books, letters, and wedding invitations went into a fire. I have a friend who burned her wedding dress. It doesn’t matter if the ending was a long time ago. You can still bring closure to it now. You can let go of the hurt and move on. You can forgive yourself for your choices or the mistakes you made (Hello - human!).
Now, I’m not sure how Trump is feeling about the way things ended. I think we all know it didn’t go down the way he wanted it to go. He doesn't seem ready to move on. And I’m sure we all wish he had chosen a different path through his disappointment. But he did leave us with something to think about when it comes to endings.
I've decided not to include all the usual links this week. I don't want to distract you or have you click something before you finish reading this email. Is there an ending in your life that you need closure on? Is there an ending you haven't quite accepted? Are you holding on to something because you don't want it to end? Is the people-pleaser in you keeping you from a painful conversation? The endings are messy. You know where to find me if you need to unpack an ending.