The End. Words we ﬁnd on the last page of a book. A sort of verbal punctuation to the story as a whole. A marker to let us loose to move on with the next thing in life—or the next life itself. We often face The End with dread, sometimes with a sigh of relief. Much of that depends on what is ending and why.
2018 has been a year ﬁlled with more endings than typical, or at least that’s how it feels to me. I am glad to see this year come to a close. In a matter of hours we’ll put this one behind us and enter a new chapter. It is a good time to reﬂect on the various endings that have taken place.
I ended a long term pastorate. After 16 years in the same town and the same church, it was time for an ending. Such endings are always ﬁlled with more emotions than can easily be summarized. There were tearful goodbyes from those who did not want to see an end and there were some abrupt ‘adieus’ from those who perhaps felt the ending had dragged on too long. This ending was messy in many ways, and that could not be helped. It is virtually impossible to take all the good and the bad from that many years and that many tears and wrap them up neatly. There are always loose ends. There are always words that should have been said and some that should have been silenced. Just because something is over does not mean that it is tidy.
I ended my tenure as the leader of the local ministerial association. It was a job that fell to me by default and I did the best I could with it. Over the years we did some good work. We made some good connections. We served God and one another in our own ways. I suspect that the task will fall to someone else in the same way it came to me. It too had its moments but, by and large, it was a positive position while it lasted.
I left the lodgings that we had occupied for many years of life. Within these walls we shared stories and meals and celebrations; we had grown up together; we had seen a lot of life. The End here brought with it a time of sorting and remembering and purging and recycling and throwing away things that no longer held value for what was coming at us from the future.
And I was the pastor who pronounced The End on many lives entrusted to my care. This is one of the aspects of my calling that I do well, according to those who have listened and watched me through the years. I have an ability to ﬁnd the right image, the right phrase, the right story that seems to bring together many characteristics of what makes someone who they are. I am mindful that having the ﬁnal word is important and can begin the healing that needs to happen when a loved one is lost. I am also mindful that a poor performance at this crucial juncture can be intensely frustrating to a family—I have been on that end as well.
So I am grateful that I was the one who got to oﬀer the ﬁnal word for my mom whose earthly end arrived in October. She was a gem in so many ways—multifaceted and musical and wise. She had left volumes of words and pictures and poems that told her life story. Selecting only a few to include in a memorial was a challenge. Leading a family and congregation through such a service was intense; when it was over I was spent emotionally and spiritually. I had to retreat to my study to recollect myself before facing others again. Some endings are harder than others because we realize what we have been blessed with.
My calling in life means that I have lots of practice with endings. I have been part of hospice care for my congregants and my family. I have sat with the dying and read the words of life. I have sat with the grieving who are trying to make sense out of what is sometimes senseless. I have counseled those whose loved ones’ ends came through tragic accidents. I have held the hands of those who were leaving this life. It can be a hard thing, but it is a practice that proves helpful to those who carry on.
So the year is coming to an end, and all that goes with it. Jobs end, schools end, positions end, relationships end, life ends. We go through countless endings in our lives— some are more important than others, some are mundane and some are monumental. We leave behind some good—much of which we may not even know. We leave behind mistakes— some of which we did not recognize. We eventually leave it all behind including this body that has grown and reproduced and exhausted itself.
I am glad to leave this year behind. It has been a chapter ﬁlled with sorrows and stress. It has seen more than its share of diﬃculties and darkness. The growth that has come has been costly. The losses have been large. The future is still bright and I am not anxious about what may lay ahead. Endings often lead to new beginnings. But at least momentarily I will thankfully arrive once again at …