Written By Elaine Chan-Scherer, LCSW
Our lives are full of beginnings and endings. I used to hate endings. But I am beginning to see how important it is to end, so that something else can begin. We see this in nature – after summer we have fall and winter. We begin and end a school year, or a calendar year. I am writing this as the year of the Tiger ends and the year of the Rabbit begins. When this article is printed, it will be the season when Christians contemplate the last part of Jesus’ human life. We need to end one thing to make space for another thing to emerge.
John O’Donohue, in his wonderful book of blessings called To Bless the Space Between Us, introduces his chapter called “Beyond Endings” with these words:
“Often what alarms us as an ending can in fact be the opening of a new journey - a new beginning that we could never have anticipated; one that engages forgotten parts of the heart. Due to the current overlay of therapy terminology in our language, everyone now seems to wish for "closure". This word is unfortunate; it is not faithful to the open-ended rhythm of experience. Creatures made of clay with porous skin and porous minds are quite incapable of the hermetic sealing that the strategy of "closure" seems to imply. The word completion is a truer word. Each experience has within it a dynamic of unfolding and a narrative of emergence. Oscar Wilde once said, "The supreme vice is shallowness. Whatever is realized is right." When a person manages to trust experience and be open to it, the experience finds its own way to realization. Though such an ending may be awkward and painful, there is a sense of wholesomeness and authenticity about it. Then the heart will gradually find that this stage has run its course and the ending is substantial and true. Eventually the person emerges with a deeper sense of freedom, certainty, and integration.”
When coming upon the ending of a particularly life-nurturing relationship for me, O’Donohue’s idea of “completion” was helpful. I could feel “complete” instead of holding on to the idea that I was missing a part of me. Something in the relationship, and in me, was now “complete.” This is different from the idea of “closure” which allows less access into the richness of my past interactions.
It is easier when “completions” occur by our choice. However, even in endings that are not by choice, this sense of “completion” can be authentic. It may take longer to feel complete, but it is possible. Different layers are a part of this completion process. My father died when I was a teenager. Decades later, I am still discovering subtle layers of understanding that contribute to “completion” and wholeness.
We often help our clients in this process of completion. The process involves creating space and safety for any unprocessed feelings to emerge. We create this space and safety through deep listening. The client feels accurately heard and/or seen. We use different methodologies including dream work, art, observation of and integration of the body and its language, ritual, and active listening and reflection to connect to unconscious parts of the psyche. We understand that the psyche attempts to protect us when we are confronted with something we don’t like by going around what it perceives as a threat. We, as therapists, are guides in being able to hold the “awkward and painful” so that these feelings are integrated into a sense of being whole and complete.
“Often what alarms us as an ending can in fact be the opening of a new journey - a new beginning that we could never have anticipated; one that engages forgotten parts of the heart.” Here’s to forgotten parts of the heart. May we rediscover these parts in ourselves and allow these parts to come forth in others.