Graduation and wedding season will soon be upon us. Time to dust off the wingtips and maybe cough up some dough for an appropriate gift. A sometimes uncomfortable (could just be the shoes) experience, I know that many in my world wonder why we should partake in these events. Yet, looking at these and other “closing rituals,” my advice would be to tie that double Windsor and show up if it makes sense.
Humans struggle with comprehending that an experience or a relationship is over. Our propensity to create stories and habits seem to play into this difficulty. For example, if I ask you about your family or your work, you are going to tell me a story. I might tell you that I am a mother of three, married for twenty-four years to an attorney and live in Bozeman. It may be true, but it is still an interpretation of my reality. All the “facts” I provide color how I thus perceive myself. Tell the story enough and it becomes a habit even though some of its details may have changed.
When I am coaching with parents, I notice that sometimes the stories about our children reflect a long-passed reality. For example, we may be treating our offspring as though they were young when they needed our minute-by-minute concern. However, if they are now adults, they would best handle their personal affairs.
But, who wants to let go of good thing? Our brains sure don’t! That I am “a young mother just starting out” is usually preferred to “I’m a middle-aged woman alone.” I want to hold on to the good stories as long as I can. Yet, ask adults whose parents refuse to let go and treat them like ten year olds. When it’s time, it’s absolutely time. There are times when we need to consciously shift to a updated description of where we stand and thus to a revised way of conducting ourselves. In letting go, we open ourselves to new and maybe even better possibilities.
Celebrations like graduations and weddings push us to move on. When we overtly acknowledge an ending, we are more apt to face facts and adapt. I believe this is a leading reason why funerals and mourning rituals are the most highly celebrated of all rites of passage around the globe. Even if we admit our loved one has died, the publicly act of celebrating this ending with our community makes it harder to act otherwise.
If your child is not the one graduating or getting married, showing up is still valuable. Rituals “stick” when they are witnessed by others. When I’m waffling on going to a celebration, I remember a favorite essay from the National Public Radio program “This I Believe” by Deirdre Sullivan entitled, “Always go to the Funeral” (click here to read or listen to this piece.) Ms. Sullivan explains, “I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that. The first time he said it directly to me, I was 16 and trying to get out of going to calling hours for Miss Emerson, my old fifth grade math teacher. I did not want to go. My father was unequivocal. ‘Dee,’ he said, ‘you’re going. Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family.'”
And so, this summer I too will pull the dress from the dry cleaner’s bag, slip into the pumps and know that whether I am the parent or just the friend my appearance at each event is worth any discomfort.