The Business of Endings

Serve your wife, children, father, and mother, and treat them as if they are very dear to you, but know in your heart that they do not belong to you. – Ramakrishna

When my son and I addressed his high school graduation announcements this week and started to receive others, I found myself ruminating more about celebrations, rites of passage and community. As I wrote earlier, cross culturally, ceremony is used to facilitate moving us from one phase of life to another. Our community helps by showing up at the celebration to witness our change. Also, even though an event might focus on one family member, it also can support transition for others. For example, puberty, graduation and marriage rituals signal shifts for both the child and the parents while funerals publicly mark changes within not only a family, but also within a community.
So, I’m feeling pretty comfortable that closing celebrations are important for both celebrant and their family. But, I’m noticing they also cause some stress. First, we have to face an ending and a new beginning, which elicits fear of the unknown. The ground shakes a bit underneath all our feet as we recognize that we haven’t yet practiced this next phase. We’ll figure it out, but it requires figuring! After years of teaching and conflict resolution, I try to take special care around endings. Be it the end of a workshop, a business or a phase of life, a structure that has given us comfort is being taken away and that causes disequilibrium.  Being gentle with oneself and those around seems in order.

Celebrations can not only throw us off by making us face by an ending, but it can also be stressful figuring out just who to invite! Not only do I get to confront where I now stand, but also who actually should stand with me. I’ve come to think of my community as organized in concentric circles with me at the center. At a macro level, I’ve got an inner circle of family and friends that surround, then a mid circle of acquaintances and an outer circle that is comprised of other’s in my “tribe” be it of a town, country and then the greater human race (or all living things depending on one’s viewpoint).

Now, within each of those circles, there are further gradations. Like within the inner realm, there are the friends you would call without hesitation at 3 am versus the buddies you would ring up happily up til 9 pm. Among your family, there is the sibling with whom you shared a room and the distant cousin you met once. Thus, the former of each example probably would be placed in a closer circle than the latter.

In our culture, we usually invite portions of our inner circle to coming-of-age ceremonies. However, since we don’t clearly know within which sub-circle everyone belongs, this can create messiness. Invite too many and appear to be trolling for dollars (or maybe it always looks like that with graduations!), or don’t send enough and offend a family member.  Also, although I believe ceremonies are important, I would be hard pressed to appear at every event to which we have been invited, or to send a gift for that matter. 🙂 So, choosing who to invite and how to respond also creates disequilibrium.

As one friend commented when we spoke about attending celebrations, “There were two events about which I still question if I should have attended. The first was a gathering of friends around a woman who had suddenly lost her husband.  We had recently become friends and I wasn’t sure she would have wanted me there to comfort her. The second was a funeral of the mother of my daughter’s friend, should have I gone? It’s not always clear.”

So, with 18 school days left, the cap and gown have been tested in the kitchen and the announcements were sent. For the lack of a better guide, we followed the Golden Rule and mailed to those from whom I would expect a similar notification. I’m thinking I will use the same when deciding how I should respond when invitations appear. Meanwhile, I find myself full of mixed feelings; including great joy for the future that lays ahead for my son and some anticipatory sadness for his absence at home next fall.  Endings are indeed important and sometimes tricky business.

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