On the last day of the school year, I stood outside the elementary school doors, watching kids come running out. Most were full of joy that summer had finally arrived. A few ran to their moms for hugs. My daughter was one of the last ones out, and I could tell from the look on her face what she was holding inside.

She ran to me and buried her soft blonde head in my rib cage.

After a few seconds, I could feel my shirt getting damp. I held her close, trying to shield her from other third graders who were skipping happily into the freedom of the next three months.

“This is how it feels to love fiercely,” I whispered to her.

I knew this was going to be a hard day. She had been counting down for more than a month, but this wasn’t the kind of countdown with a trip to Disney at the end. This was more of a death march.

My empathy for her filled my heart and ran down my face in streaks. I had broken into the same brand of hard sobbing several times the previous few days.

For her, she had just ended a school year of being blessed each day with the best. teacher. ever. No one in the history of teachers could ever be as wonderful as her third grade teacher — in her mind, at least. She loved her teacher with all of the love her 9-year-old heart could hold.

For me, just two days earlier, I had closed a chapter in my life, as well. After nine years working at my church, I have decided to move in another direction. I have been blessed to work with an amazing team of people and experienced incredible freedom to do what I loved. I grew creatively. I learned leadership skills. And I loved hard.

As we walked home, we talked about the downside of being so blessed. Of loving something so much.

How will she ever top that year? How will she ever have another teacher she loves like that? How will she ever have so much fun during another year of school? How will she ever learn as much as she did this year with her teacher who was specially trained to help academically talented kids?

How will I ever get to work with such talented people again? How will I find another job that combines so much of what I love to do? How will I be so blessed to get to do something that felt so fulfilling?

We both ended a season, also knowing the alternative.

We could have walked away with no emotion. She could have skipped out of school that day, just happy to be done. I could have walked out without tears in my eyes.

We could have just had an OK experience. Just dealt with the people around us. Never opened up our hearts.

It would have made it easier to see that time come to an end. To close a chapter. To say good-bye.

We were both blessed with an ending that made our hearts hurt.

Those kinds of endings don’t come all of the time. It would have been easier to walk away without the emotion. It would have been safer to skip off into summer. She’s had painless endings and so have I.

But  we don’t take for granted getting to experience a love for something that made it so hard to walk away.

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How about you? Have you experienced a painful ending?

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