Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Little Deaths

Saying "goodbye" is a bittersweet part of life. A line from an Emily Dickenson poem expresses this, “Parting is all we know of heaven/and all we need of hell.” Shakespeare made the same point, “Parting ‘tis such sweet sorrow.”

Partings are often difficult because they mark an ending of some kind. Even when a relationship doesn’t end, saying good-bye can be bittersweet. That’s because an ending is a loss and we mourn what has been lost.

Someone has called the partings that occur throughout life “little deaths.” There are so many of these: moving from one town to another, sending a child to kindergarten or college, changing jobs, graduating, getting divorced, changing churches, and so it goes.

These little deaths can be painful. It’s sad leaving good friends behind when we move. Even if we keep in touch, the relationship must change. The same is true of sending our children off to college. Even though we know it’s part of their growing up, we miss the closeness of their daily presence with us.

Dealing with these little deaths can prepare us for the Big Death, that final parting in which we say “good-bye” for the rest of this life. Yet, in faith we know that death cannot break the bonds of love and that we are joined in heart with our loved ones who have died.

Everything I said about Big Deaths in the paragraph above applies to little deaths. Just because we no longer have the physical presence of another doesn’t mean the relationship ends. We can keep in touch by letter, phone or email. We can visit one another. Yet, it’s not the same.

Even if relationships don’t end after we part, they do change. And such change can be painful, even when we know it is for the best. As our poets remind us, parting can be both “hell” and “sorrow” as well as “heaven” and “sweet”

Yet, there is both promise and hope in the pain of endings. The promise comes in knowing this is the way we grow and evolve as persons. The hope comes because God is with us in the midst of endings. The last verse of the hymn, “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” echoes these thoughts:
When we asunder part/it gives us inward pain,
Yet we shall still be joined in heart/and hope to meet again.

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