Change And Endings: Truths Of Life We Struggle To Face

“I don’t know if God plays favorites. But if he does, Dorothy would be at the top of his list.”

The priest said these words Friday morning to funeral attendees filling the first several pews in the massive, decorative cathedral in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Dorothy had passed at the age of 76.

I knew her son Robert pretty well. And I had met Dorothy a few times when visiting their house. I’d always known her as a diminutive, frail woman, walking about slowly with her cane and losing her eye sight. Yet she was lively, happy, and eager to greet me whenever I entered the house.

Then Robert called early last week to say she had died. It had been a few months since I’d seen her. Still, it felt like a snap of a finger and she was gone. I guess when it’s someone’s time, things happen quickly. A young, female relative of Dorothy’s exemplified how the family felt about this sudden loss, as she struggled at the service to offer her Bible reading through her weeping.

With a lifespan of 70+ years, we humans can’t normally observe the change in those close to us. When we do, it’s noteworthy (growth spurts of a child, for example). On top of that, we have a reluctance to see change, I think, because it can be sad and scary. Seeing a child we love grow up has us nostalgic for his/her younger, smaller days. Seeing an elderly relative whither has us observe the process of death–something we don’t like to think about.

Goodbyes are hard.

Two Friday’s ago was the final day of class at the school where I work. For the 8th grade students, this was the very last day they’d be at this K-8 school–these hallways, these staff, these friends.

By the end of the day, several 8th grade girls exited the building bawling and embracing one another. A few boys kept their reddened, contorted faces up as they walked to their bus. I think for these students it was an early lesson in our human desire to contain that which is precious–and how heartbreaking it can be to realize that that which is precious will never be back again. How painful it can be, then, to look back, to long for those moments to return, to wish them to last forever, and then to crumble at the realization that they are gone forever; to have to relinquish the beauty.

School staff watched the students with endearment, even with a chuckle. One staff member offered a student a tissue.

How adorable it was to see the kids embrace, I thought. How cute to see them broken up about not seeing their friends despite all of them being connected through their phones.

Then I walked into my office and saw this posted on my computer.

Then I teared up when looking back on the year working with the student who wrote this.

Helena was an undersized 6th grader, who at the beginning of the year wanted to work on the school newsletter with the other middle school reporters I advised. But when she looked up to me to ask, I had to tell her the spots were full. She quickly deflected that it was okay. No big deal. I felt bad for having to tell her no. Then couple of weeks later, a spot opened up. So I asked Helena if she wanted to be a reporter. Her face lit up into a beaming grin. All year, she worked to learn photography, design, and how to interview.

As the year ended, she said she wanted a picture with me. Though we didn’t get one that final day, I emailed her one from earlier in the year. This was made extra important, because I got word a few weeks ago that I will not be returning in the fall as communications associate for the school. My position was cut.

Time for me to say goodbye to the school and these students as well.

The good news about saying goodbye to this job? It’s time for the start of something new. Coincidentally, my last day at the school is the same date I’ve had planned to leave for my journey through the Pacific Northwest. With no job to come back for, I can now take extra time to explore the people and places of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. I leave Friday, June 30. And just like my journey through The South last summer, you’re all coming with me. More on this on this Sunday’s article.

Until then, here’s to embracing change, endings, beginnings, and all the life experienced as a result.

***

This article was based off of my Sunday evening email to friends and readers of The Periphery. If you’d like to be included in these personal, weekly connections, please email me at brandon@theperiphery.com. And if you’d like to share your story on The Periphery, please email me as well. We’d love to hear all about your insights and adventures.

What say you?