The darkest night of the year will soon be upon us, and this is the season of endings (in the northern hemisphere at least). So just what is an ending? Some would say that an ending is nothing but a new beginning. Sometimes it is easy to adopt that slightly different perspective, like when we change jobs, move to a new home, or complete our schooling. Sometimes it is hard to see the new beginning in the ending, like when we lose a loved one. We usually see death as the ultimate ending, but it can be a beginning as well, even without getting into the concept of reincarnation.
Death can be merciful
When I was very young, my great-grandmother was still alive. She was almost 87 when I was born, and lived to the ripe old age of 96. Although I didn’t see her often, I did know that she was in decline. I knew she was in and out of the hospital, and so it was no surprise when my father broke the news to us that she passed away. My father explained to me (at age 9) about how hard it was on his grandmother to be so ill, and that she was at peace now. He showed us that death is not always a sad thing, but rather it can be a relief sometimes.
My first memory of death was when I was 6 or 7 years old. We had a beloved doberman who succumbed to heart worms. By the time we knew what was wrong with him, it was too late to save him. One day very soon after, my father went “hunting” with him, and returned home alone. I understood what had happened. Rusty was so very sick, and in pain, so my father ended his misery. It was a merciful death.
Over the years, we lost a few kittens when they wandered too close to the road. We raised goats and the baby bucks were immediately designated for the pantry as soon as they were born. We weren’t supposed to name them so that it would be easier for us when it came slaughter time. One baby buck, however, had the misfortune of breaking his back from an accident. My father brought him in the house to see if anything could be done for him. We soon saw that he was just dragging his back legs as he attempted to move around, and we knew it was over for him. He did not seem to be in any pain, but all quality of life was gone for him. My father called a friend and the two of them dispatched him at the end of the driveway.
Death can seem senseless
When I was 17, I went away to college. The Friday before Thanksgiving I was sitting in class, waiting for the professor to begin class. I sat near the back of the classroom, as I always did, and glanced out the door into the hallway. I saw two people who looked familiar, but it was a few moments before my brain registered them as my aunt and uncle. My aunt looked very distraught. Someone came and told me that they were looking for me, so I left class to speak to them. My aunt was too emotional to speak, so my uncle told me that my father had just passed away from a heart attack.
My first reaction was denial. He was only 46 years old. I had recently spoken to him and he was just fine. He wasn’t old enough to die. My next reaction was to collapse. Now, I am not the fainting sort, and I did not faint that day. I did, however, lose the strength in my legs to stand. My uncle caught me and held me as I wailed. Finally, I gathered my wits enough to realize that I had things I needed to do. I collected my books from class and excused myself. We drove across campus to my dorm, where I called my friends to cancel all my weekend plans. I packed an overnight bag, and then we drove an hour to my grandparents’ house. Then began our life without my father.
My father was my favorite person in the whole world. I was Daddy’s Little Girl. He adored me and I adored him. I wanted nothing more than his praise. He was the greatest influence on my young life, and I wanted a husband just like him. He was a proud Republican and an evangelical Christian, his best friend was our pastor. “Bleeding heart liberals” disgusted him, and he warned me against dating non-Christians and yoking a horse with an ox. Chick tracts were popular in our house. In other words, he railed against the type of person I have become.
I only began to realize this in the last few years. I knew that my father used to have very different beliefs before his conversion back to Christianity when I was 5. He had been a Freemason, a Wiccan, and was fascinated with the supernatural. As my beliefs evolved, so too did my views about my father. I tried to imagine that he would be pleased with my philosophical changes, as if he were the man before the one I knew so well. It was only recently that I realized that if my father were still alive, he would likely strongly disapprove of the woman I have become. He died as a closed-minded Christian, not an open-minded pagan. (I do not mean that those are the only two options, merely that that dichotomy is most applicable in this case.)
Death as a beginning
If my father were still alive today, I do not know if he would be as closed-minded as he was when I lost him, or if he would have softened over the years as my mother did. Although my mother is still a Christian, she now has a mind open enough to still love and accept me for who I am. I’m sure it pushes her comfort zone at times, but she does not denounce me as Satan’s pawn, as I could easily imagine my father doing to someone else.
I wonder sometimes if he chose to take his leave of this life when he did in part to allow me to blossom into this woman I have become without creating a rift between us. I can remember with fondness the man I loved, instead of feeling guilty about betraying his beliefs. His death marked the beginning of the journey that led me to the beliefs I hold now. So, in a way, I am glad I lost him when I did. I am far more comfortable with my beliefs now than I ever was after I reached the age of reason and critical thinking.
So even the most painful of endings can still mark beautiful beginnings. In these dark days, remember that endings merely mark a boundary between one thing and the next. One day you may view your most painful experiences with a new perspective. The light will soon return, and you will see the new world that emerges from the ashes of the old.