Searching for Closure: the Challenge of Loose Ends

Closure is a “sometimes thing,” to use an expression from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

Most of us want our uncomfortable emotions gathered and tied, but knots on the human package tend to loosen. Feelings leak out because they are squirmy, slippery parts of every life. Endings find a way not to end whenever they discover a quiet, tender crack through which to wiggle.

Breakups and losses happen to everyone. Usually, one party wants the book to close more than the other.

The latter experiences greater relief than grief. The other carries the heavier burden of pain and seeks an escape or another chance.

Perhaps he enlists distraction, alcohol, drugs, and medication, to no avail. Sometimes therapy, rebound romance, and faith also fail to heal wounds. What then?

Some wait and hope. They want to unend the end, begin the friendship or love anew, hoping the guy or girl realizes the loss. The seeker — the one with more anguish — searches for renewal, not dissolution.

Maybe he hopes his distant dad will finally say, “I love you, and I’m proud of you.For years he pretended the old man’s opinion didn’t matter.

Then the father dies, and the not-so-sunny boy learns the ache didn’t get buried with the man. He relives the pain over conversations remembered or never achieved.

At least, this survivor can grieve to the level of acceptance. Papa shall not come back, so all the solutions belong to the younger man. His situation can be both harder and more straightforward when his late father resides in “a world elsewhere.”

If a friend or lover is a call or email away, the possibility of a reunion may continue no matter the odds.

The long-standing therapeutic approach to bereavement involves expressing feelings — love, hate, sadness, emptiness — all of it. Over time, these should quiet themselves.

Standard techniques to advance the process include writing farewell letters one never sends, “speaking” to the deceased at an actual or ad hoc gravesite, role-playing a conversation with the one you cared about, or burying a note as a symbolic departure.

All these try to turn the abstraction of loss into a material or ritualized object, something you can see, hear or enact.

Some people, however, sustain their preoccupation with the other. Without intent, they train their minds to return to her repeatedly. They watch videos of her, listen to recordings of her voice, read her texts and emails, view photos of the loved one.

Friends, too, do this, not just people with romantic attachments. They remain absorbed in thoughts of estranged companions, replaying the events leading to the rift, analyzing and reanalyzing the why of it all.

Wondering whether there is a way to mend the bond continues the one-sided relationship. If these expenditures of time don’t end, the person engaged in them becomes an enemy of his own healing. His hope prevents a final goodbye and a step that might offer something more attainable.

Some romances can be rekindled, others transformed into friendships, and buddies return for various reasons. When those efforts work, here are some contributing factors:

  • Both individuals remember the best times and still yearn for reattachment, though at least one hasn’t said so.
  • One of the former partners hasn’t made an effort because of fear of rejection or anger.
  • Both members of the couple have changed in the ways necessary to create a more lasting bond.
  • One of the pair has reflected on the mistakes he made. He would welcome the chance to apologize if the other would listen. This could permit as much closure as the singleton requires. If the other reciprocates, an avenue to a fresh beginning may open.
  • The two souls feel incomplete without the other half.
  • No other relationships or responsibilities, especially with a spouse, would be compromised by taking up the old connection.
  • Life events or thoughtful changes have not caused one to recognize the need to maintain distance.

Reconnection can be wonderful if the two once again experience joy. When the attempt fails, it may at least remove hope and set dreams of recommitment aside. The “final” unhappiness might be a necessary step toward letting go. From the bottom, one can only rise.

When I continued to practice, patients sometimes asked what they could do to reclaim a failing or terminated relationship. No single answer works for all, and the counselor who dares to offer a confident prognostication walks unsteady ground. Even so, when my clients reported a long period of unanswered calls, texts, and emails, the unstated message was clear.

This time of year — dark days, pandemic, political and media-fueled rage, heightened anxiety, and more — increases our desire to embrace those we’ve loved and still love. Moreover, reaching out in the holidays might reduce the chance of a rude reply.

Still, not everything in life can be put right. More frequently than you might think, neither person in the split is wrong. Instead, their interests no longer coincide. It can even happen that two hearts are together in their breaking.

Before any new attempt to reattach, ask yourself whether the other is essential to you, recognizing most of us are not. Reflect on past losses, recalling your hard-won buoyancy and resilience.

A recent conversation with a close friend illustrates how hard letting go can be. She wondered …

Does “acceptance” require giving up asking “why”?

GS: I need to know a bit more to understand what you are looking for.

Your response gets to the heart of my question. I am questioning going down the rabbit hole of gathering more and more information. Is it intellectually crippling to turn away from that effort?

GS: Knowing why is not always possible. Neither is turning away easy. Life always has loose ends ...

My friend asked her daughter-in-law the same question. Here was her answer:

I don’t think that it’s human to stop asking questions. Acceptance to me is more about being at peace with whatever answers we get. Acceptance is also being OK with not knowing, with not getting answers.

A wise young woman.

Here’s to a New Year full of wisdom and kindness, enough to repair a world of broken hearts.

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The top painting is Mt. Fuji from Kishio by Kawase Hasui, 1937, from History Daily. Next in line is the Narrows, Zion National Park, December 2020 by Laura Hedien. Blaue Kegelberg by Gabriele Munter follows, then Tragedy by Franz Kline, 1961. Finally, just below is Northern Lights at the Arctic Circle by Laura Hedien. As with the first photograph, these come with her kind permission: Laura Hedien Official Website.

5 thoughts on “Searching for Closure: the Challenge of Loose Ends

  1. Closure is a tricky word…. the questions never end. Great post.. thought provoking.

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    • Agreed, Laura. The biggest questions almost always have multiple answers. I keep coming up with new ones! Happy New Year!

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  2. Broken relationships are filled with loose ends. I’ve learned to accept that answers are rarely forthcoming. The beauty about being a storyteller is that I can create different narratives to tie up loose ends 😀

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