Updated: Oct 19, 2020
I write this on a sunny spring morning, thinking about what is to come later for me: My last day of university term for another year. I’m two years through a three-year masters and the past six months have seen me juggling essay-writing alongside working as a UA and running my own small business. It’s been intense, that’s true, and at times all I’ve wanted is to reach this point where all the essays are in for another academic year and what stretches before me is a long, (hopefully) warm summer of freedom, rest, and enjoying some of the relationships that have suffered through my winter of studying.
And yet what I actually feel is a confused jumble: I feel sad, for the faces I won’t now see for a few months, and for the incredible period of learning and discovery that I’ve been through; and I feel a bit anxious, because all that freedom and time suddenly opens up in front of me and freedom is, in its own way, a bit scary. I do feel happy and excited too. I feel the rich, textured mixture of an ending.
We work with endings often at Untapped. For those of us working as UAs, projects can last from a week to a year or even longer. What is certain is that they will end. I spoke to some other UAs as we finished an intense, 66-day project for a client last month. Although our experiences differed, what was common to us all was the strength of feelings stirred up by finishing; we had all built deep, strong relationships with users who opened up to us and grew through the process, short as it was. Letting go of those relationships proved an emotional moment for many of us, with that familiar jumble of feelings: Happiness at the work we’d done together, at the relationships we’d built, alongside the inevitable pain of letting those relationships go as we separate.
How integral this experience is to our lives: The building of projects, relationships, experiences, before they fall away, or we release them. The oscillation of our energies as we breathe in and out, let in and let go. We often unconsciously say goodbye before we recognise within ourselves the difficult truth that we have already moved on, and it is down to us now to face that and act upon it.
Life requires us all to negotiate constant change as we adjust to those losses we have chosen, and those we have not. I find that grief theory can be a surprising source of solace in the face of endings, even where no one has died, and the Dual Process model of grief has helped me understand my own mixed-up feelings in the face of change. Stroebe and Schut (1995) argue that grief is not a linear process in the way we tend to make sense of it, where we assume that we can work through a series of steps (denial, anger, bargaining…) Instead, we may well face these common feelings, but they might ebb and flow, in no particular order.
What’s more we may also be learning to cope in new ways, building new relationships, and growing in ourselves. None of this is good or bad, right or wrong, nor is there one rule to fit us all: We’re individuals, and in the face of different endings we will make our ways through the emotional mud in the best ways we can at the time.
When speaking to others UAs about their own experience of endings, one response in particular stayed with me: ‘This year my youngest hits the year 6 mark which means independence and potentially our last summer together in quite the same way. I know it's coming and I'm trying to prepare but it gets me every time. For me it's about endings and not knowing quite what the last time means. What I love about our work is that we do know to some extent. Learning to live with the unknown is the hardest work I've ever had to do.’
Written by Claire Lamont