Andrew and Amanda had clear instructions of how to get themselves off to school without me. Annie and I were off in the early morning Denver traffic with the May sunshine in our eyes. It was her senior year and I sat in the passenger seat as she drove the black Volkswagen Jetta she had bought with babysitting money to the metro park tennis courts. She had hopes of making it to state finals again. If she won this match, it would happen.
Almost 20 years later I can remember the intensity of the match. Every time Annie fought back to nearly bring it even, the other player seemed to nudge slightly ahead. The match ended 6-4 and 6-4.
I watched her shake hands with her opponent and graciously congratulate her for the match well played. I met Annie while she was talking to her coach and we said goodbye and walked silently to the car. My heart was pounding in our silence and I was not sure if I should speak. I quietly opened the car door and sat down. She opened her door, sat down and before she turned on the ignition she looked at me and said, “I just didn’t want it to end. It’s over.” We looked at one another and our eyes said all that words could have said to each other. It was the end of her “sports career.” There would be no tennis team in college. This was it.
The words Annie spoke seared deep into my heart. “I just didn’t want it to end. It’s over.”
I remember the weaning of each child. I loved being a nursing mom. It was so “earth mother radical” after my mother’s bottle-feeding generation. My father photographed me reading, “The Motherly Art of Breastfeeding” as I sat on the couch in our Florida home helping Anna unhinge her tongue from the roof of her mouth. It was a feminine “sumo wrestling” act of love and I embraced it with wonder and passion.
I nursed my other two babies too. Only a few times I annoyingly wondered when I’d ever be able to wear a silk dress to church again. But, honestly, I usually loved and reveled in the miracle of feeding my babies with my own milk. I would ponder how hard the last time to nurse them would be. It would bring tears to my eyes at the thought of the end of this phase. I am immensely grateful that somehow, the last time to nurse each baby, was never completely known. I fear if I had known I would have wallowed in sorrow as a retired captain might feel on his very last voyage. I just never knew which nursing was the last.
I am not fond of endings and I cannot believe that anyone ever is.
The last time in our family home is a heartfelt ending that almost takes my breath thinking about it a decade after the fact. I remember taking the final items out of my parents’ home before we sold it. Everything had been cleared out and all the walls painted off white and only the stacks of photo albums remained on the shelves. My sister wanted them to remain and since I was the out of town child I wanted to see the job completed. I calmly carried each one to the garage and said, “No, they will be safe here until the house is sold.” It was a new way to speak to my older sister. It was the closure I needed to see to the end. Closing the back door after the sale was finally completed remains in my memory. I can hear the closing of the door and feel the door handle I had closed since second grade.
Endings are holy and they ache for years to come.
I watched The Sunday Morning show on CBS this morning. The queen of documentaries, Sheilah Nevins, was interviewed. She is seventy-eight and looks like she is fifty. She confessed without shame the ungodly amount of Botox in her body. At the end of the segment she said, “It sucks to have this all end. I don’t like it at all. It is not fair that it must all end.”
We were never meant for anything to end. Eden held no ending until animals were killed to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve’s shame. The passage is seldom talked about with all the drama that occurs in Genesis 3. “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (v.21). Endings lead me to feel young and small. I want to stomp my foot and shout: “No more death. No more loss. No more endings.” I feel lonely and alone, small and impotent to stop the onslaught of death itself. I can picture in my mind my parents and Dan’s parents, grandparents and friends who have died way too soon than anyone desired. They are all lying down dressed in clothes they loved. Their faces are serene and their bodies cold.
It is all too much without a covering. I am either going to pretend it is just the way life is and shrug and accept it or I am going to stomp my foot and bury my face in my hands and shout, “No.”
Or I can allow every ending, even of this reflection, to stand naked, awkward and needy for death to clothe me in life and awaken a rage that says “Yes” to all that life gives and hunger for the day no end is ever in sight.
Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of 40 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living! bs