Celebrating death as the year ends

Photo credit: RIP by Alvin Trusty, from Flickr and used via CC BY-NC 2.0 licensing

As one year dies and another is set to begin, my thoughts naturally turn toward reviewing the year that is passing even as I plan for the year to come. This process always gets me thinking about death.

This is not a morbid thing—I’m not hoping for death or even anticipating my own death any time soon (although, of course, one never knows). It is instead an acknowledgement of the deaths that have happened in my own life over the last year and the new life that has sprung from the space made by those deaths.

It is also an awareness that each year means I have less time to do all the things that I wish to do with my life, so prioritizing the things that matter most becomes increasingly important.

I find the metaphor of death and re-birth to be a very powerful one in my life, giving me hope of new beginnings as things fall apart. But in real life, I never find it to be as neat or orderly as I imagine it.

Death is always messy and painful and full of grief, whether it is the death of a loved one, the death of a relationship, the death of a job or career, the death of an identity, or the death of a dream. Even in a case where there is a marker of the death that can be clearly defined, like the date of a divorce, there is a long process leading up to that date and stretching after that date as the course of the dying and the grieving takes time to unfold.

Re-births are often just as messy and hard to define in their early stages. We see glimmers of possibility and small new beginnings along the way, but the process of growth is usually slow as we wait to see what it is that has been born and whether it will become what we have hoped for.

As I’ve done this review process the last several years, it has been year after year of looking back on death and grief and loss. Each year I’ve been hoping that the next year would bring something new and something better, but it’s been hard to see anything of any significance growing out of the desolation. The small growths that have sprouted have inevitably been short-lived, and their deaths have added new layers of grief and death to those already in place.

But as I look back on 2013, I see something different. I see hopeful shoots of new growth in many places that have not only sprouted but are thriving. I’m just getting to the point where the new growth is beginning to take shape and give me glimpses of what might be to come.

The grief has subsided, and the things that have died have become fertile ground for this new growth as I have learned and matured through the process. I am more excited about the work I am doing and the life I am living as I look forward to 2014 than I have been in many years.

This hope feels good, and I’m looking forward to seeing what lies ahead. But I’m also very aware that I could not be at this hopeful place of new growth without all of the death that came before it, much as I did not enjoy that process.

The whole metaphor of death and re-birth is central to Christianity, and it is a lens that I have been surrounded with all of my life. I know that this is how things work. I know it’s a necessary process. I know that letting old things die leaves room for better things to be born and grow.

I know this, and I still fight each and every death with every ounce of my being. Death has still been my enemy, taking away what is familiar and known with no sign of what might be to come. Death is still messy and painful and miserable.

As I consider what has been born in my life over the last year, though, I am gaining a bit of appreciation for the deaths that made this new growth possible. While it’s been a few really painful years getting to this place, it’s been worth it to be where I am now (despite knowing that there are many growth pains yet to come).

I’m also realizing that part of what made those deaths so horribly painful and protracted was my fighting against them. In trying to keep dying relationships, careers, situations, or dreams alive, I made the process much harder on myself than it needed to be. The grief and the pain would have been lessened and shorter-lived if I had been willing to hold these things more loosely.

So as I am heading into a new year, I am looking for those places in my life where there are still things that need to be released so that they can die more peacefully as I continue to grow into these new dreams and opportunities. I am seeking to hold even the new growth more loosely to allow it to grow and change and even die as it needs to.

I still don’t enjoy these deaths in my life. They are still painful. But I am learning to appreciate their value more deeply as I embrace the new life that is growing out of them. And in that sense, I find myself celebrating these deaths as I move forward to face a new year filled with hope.

As you move into your new year, is there anything in your life that you need to release or let die to make room for new life? If you’re in the midst of the grief from one or more of those deaths, where are you seeing signs of possible new growth beginning to sprout?

Wherever you are in your journey as 2013 comes to a close, I wish you as much new growth, as much healing, and as many hopeful opportunities as your heart can hold in the new year.

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