What is it about endings that can incite a maelstrom of complex emotions? Whether it’s the end of a holiday, relationship, career, life… the feelings around these significant full stops can provoke a tangle of uncomfortable reactions.
These reactions can be unique. For some it’s a refusal to acknowledge what’s going on – if I bury my head, it won’t really happen. For others it means a brave face, “I’m doing fine, thank you!” For many, there will be a complete meltdown. None of this is normal, it’s just what happens.
You see, in life, most endings are not straightforward. They run the gamut of being either meticulously planned, spontaneous, forced, chaotic, lingering... And simply because something has come to a close, that ta-dah! curtain call just might not happen. For example, a person can physically leave their job, but certain associations still stick with them, making it hard to completely detach. They could find themselves still remembering that every Friday is team meeting day, or a new bus journey takes them past their old office every morning.
“What we call the beginning is often the end And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” From Little Gidding by TS Eliot
Endings are a tough but necessary lesson of processing the sticky stuff.
A few years ago I sold a tiny holiday home on the Isle of Wight. We’d enjoyed family summers there for 14 years - the entire early childhood of my two sons. When it was time to close the door for the final time, I felt completely heartbroken. But, instead of slamming that door shut behind me and scooting back to the mainland, I slowly went from room to room, touching the walls, mentally thanking each one and remembering the glorious holidays we’d spent there. Of course, I cried like a lunatic but it felt good, soothing even. I’d given time and attention to my aching heart and I could say goodbye positively with the knowledge that we’d been lucky enough to build this huge bank of memories over the years.
When it comes to our support work at Untapped, reaching the end of a relationship with a user is often difficult. Saying goodbye, after many months of building a deep, emotional and trusting connection throws up all kinds of challenges. Users can suddenly start behaving very differently – not turning up for video calls and subconsciously switching off, or they can become teary, needy, anxious, aloof, even confrontational.
It is crucial to give tough endings a degree of space. In Untapped support, we acknowledge an upcoming ending early on, to discuss it with the user and try to unpick any unsettling feelings that arise. As a conduit for their users’ feelings, there’s likely to be unease on both sides. But that’s okay. What’s important is to recognise it’s happening and talk openly about it.
After all, endings can be so disorientating. The temptation, though, is to concentrate on the end result and wonder, ‘how long will it take to work out all this unnerving, messy stuff?’ The answer is, who knows? It takes time. And each of us has a personal clock.
Often, the transitional period after the conclusion of a momentous chapter of our lives is when a deeper acceptance can take place. This time of contemplation and processing can still leave us feeling off-kilter, but slowly - perhaps snail-paced slowly – there will be a movement towards acceptance that a new situation has taken root. As the French novelist, Anatole France wrote:
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”
And with reflection, we can consider what went well, what needs attention, and the whys surrounding these topics. From this process, we can learn plenty. Yes, the fallout from an ending can be confusing but it’s not until we delve into the quagmire can we hope for a deeper understanding and ultimately a foothold in our next chapter.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” -Steve Jobs.
There is something monumental about reaching the end. It can seem significant, powerful, juddering, liberating… a hundred other adjectives. But like the box-office blockbuster that takes its audience on a journey of love, loss, destruction and triumph, when the credits roll towards The End of the tale, you can bet your bag of sweet/salty popcorn that there is an even bigger and brighter sequel waiting in line.
Written by Jenny Tucker