2016 is ending, and with it, a phase in all our lives. Years neatly section off time so that we can all have an ending and a new beginning together, but endings come around more often than every 365 days. Whether it’s January 1st or May 24th or August 8th or whenever –
A phase in your life is over.
Maybe you’re moving to a new city, a new country even. Maybe you’re leaving a job, or maybe you’re ending a relationship. Little endings happen every day as we walk out of buildings, get out of cars or buses, leave movies, check out at stores, finish essays or books or tv shows, but these don’t get much attention. Maybe you think about what you just did for a moment or two, make a comment about something you noticed to a person you’re with, but leaving the grocery store doesn’t typically make the news feed. But big things – these take quite a bit of our attention. And they’re often quite painful.
Whether you’re happy to go or your heart’s breaking, grief happens. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to walk around a town wondering when you’ll ever be in it again, it’s okay to cry yourself to sleep replaying memories of you and someone who’s no longer in your life.
You’re allowed to celebrate, too. Even if you’re going through a nasty breakup or ending something awful – there were good parts about it, right? You treated yourself to a fancy coffee once a week at a certain coffee shop, say, or he made you laugh til you peed your pants – just because it’s over doesn’t mean the good things go away, and it doesn’t mean you have to be sad.
Endings are bittersweet, and forgetting to balance the bitter with the sweet tips us off kilter, sets us up to begin in a strange, unhealthy way. To get closure, even from the sharpest pains, you’ve got to hold the sadness with the joy. When something’s over, you get a bit of distance from it – you’re no longer in the midst of it, so you can see clearly – without the bias you held while you were living that reality. Now you get a chance to see the whole experience as a montage, to view yourself acting in situations that already happened. You can think about it. Maybe you like how you acted or maybe you don’t, but see it. Understand it without judgment. Since the phase is over, you are no longer that person. Yes, it’s you, it looks like you and said all the things you said, but now – now you’re not in that situation. You’re no longer impacted by its stresses or joys. The part of you that actively does that thing is gone – dead. So really when you’re grieving a phase in your life, you’re grieving a former version of your self.
I’ll use myself as an example here – I just recently moved from the town where I graduated college, where my family lives, where I fell in love twice, where I learned to be kind to myself. This was also the town where I felt more depressed than I ever have, worked through conflicts with my parents, ended a destructive relationship, and had moments of truly hating myself. In leaving it, I had to see it for what it was. I had to recognize the sadness of some of the times I went through, and feel joy to be leaving, but, at the same damn time, I saw all the beautiful moments, the wonderful job I had, the community I relished – and I had to feel sad. I had to grieve that I couldn’t be there any more, that I was leaving, and that those joyous moments were gone.
Flipping through my rolodex of memories before I left, I saw some clear images – beautiful evenings with people I love, moments alone in my favorite places – and I realized that the girl I saw in those moments, while Bethany, was no longer me. I saw myself being happy in the past, and at the same time I knew – I’m not her anymore. She’s a part of me, of course, and all my past experiences – positive and negative – inform who I am now. But, looking back, I saw a girl who hadn’t learned lessons that I’ve since learned, who hadn’t endured trials I’ve since endured, and who didn’t know she would be living in China right now, typing this out in her very own apartment. And for a few moments, I felt sad. I loved her. I felt true joy in those moments, and now they’re gone, never to be lived again. And that can be difficult to let go of. But what good would living in the past do me? Seeing her, that version of myself that I was truly happy being, I know that she is a part of me. And I trust her to build an incredible future for herself, to move forward into new upgrades of herself and to never let yesterday or last week or last month be her prime. Even if it was really fucking great – tomorrow always holds potential to be better.
Endings are hard. There’s no way around that. But beginnings are beautiful. And the purity and freshness of a new beginning can be tainted if the past hangs around too closely. For now – it’s over. Cry about it, laugh about it, comfort yourself with the memories you’ll always have, and turn forward – hold your head high and carry on.
Love, calm, & care –