Goodwill has saved my sanity. The store, that is (though a giant heaping of the lowercase version would do similar wonders for my mental health I’m sure). With four children under the age of six in a 1,000-square-foot, 100-year-old home with two half-hearted closets and a basement I wouldn’t step foot in save for a tornado à la the Wizard of Oz, trips to Goodwill are for me what trips to the candy store are for my littles. Dropping off those boxes and bags clears clutter from our home, yes, but also clutter from my mind and heart. Noticeable mental space is made available, real emotional tension released.
What a blessing, boxing up things that no longer serve us, taping those boxes shut, and eliminating them from our lives finally and entirely.
If only we could clean up painful memories and experiences in a similar manner. Or at least contain them in a sensible, organized fashion to be considered and examined when and as able. Or contained at all, even tossed without rhyme or reason somewhere, anywhere, so as not to lay scattered intrusively throughout all our thoughts and feelings, affecting them by their presence without claiming those effects outright.
The Need for Closure
The need for closure is a very real psychological phenomenon. It presents in diverse situations and to varying degrees. A combination of temperament, personality, history, and circumstances play into what closure looks like for each of us and how we cope if this need is not met. (Of note, we can also be averse to closure, averse to the culpability and criticism it may present, emotionally incapable of handling it, or merely preferring ambiguity and the [perhaps false] freedom this ambiguity affords future decisions.) Though individual need for closure exists on a scale, a great majority of us are motivated to seek understanding and minimize doubt and uncertainty.
Regardless of the degree to which we seek and value closure or the particular loss that lays claim to this need, when important things are lost—relationships, loved ones, jobs, health, reputation—and we are confused as to why, it affects us.
When the cause of trauma is ambiguous, the first and primary focus is the immediate loss, our inability to understand it, and the effect this has on our ability to cope and, ultimately, heal.
We are often unable to “close” loss by ourselves; it usually requires the input of others. Should those others be unable or unwilling to communicate, no amount of additional information will bridge the gap. Growing increasingly common, ghosted relationships—and even breakups discussed ad nauseam but boiling down to “it’s not you it’s me” or “I just don’t feel it anymore”—are prime examples. We can theorize, we can guess, we can suggest, but ultimately, we cannot be entirely sure of the cause.
The secondary focus in grappling with traumatic events in which closure is not met is ascertaining and clarifying how this grief is affecting or may affect current and future circumstances, reactions, and decisions. In other words, how is it skewing our vision and impairing our judgement, sense of self, and identity? The easiest thing to do with unresolved trauma is to set it aside—compartmentalize it so that our immediate emotional state can return to some semblance of normal and we can function—but the confusion, fear, and self-consciousness will seep out. Awareness of, and reflection on, that you are affected, if not exactly how, can go a long way in minimizing these effects.
Living with Ambiguity
So what, practically, can we do when our need for understanding and closure is not met? Expert advice recommends such things as writing letters, creating rituals, remaining grateful for what we do have, and taking ownership of our role in the loss. These suggestions can bring immense relief over time and truly help mitigate further pain, and yet I can say with utmost certainty that to heal our hearts and minds, the surest path is straight to the Healer himself.
When I lost my father with no explanation and no goodbye, I felt unsafe—no longer able to trust anyone or anything. Healing came through learning to place my trust where it belongs. Or rather, with whom it belongs. If you have lived through unexpected trauma, the world will look different forever. But the world is not your home, and the power that called it into being is for you and with you and will never leave your side.
When I miscarried my child without answers and without acknowledgement from much of the world, I felt alone. Completely, silently, alone. It is only through the hope of heaven that the questions are quieted and life without him bearable. When you have lost something of value beyond compare, you can feel a shame and grief that separates you from every other living being. God can handle it. He wants the deepest and the darkest. If you give it to him, it will be redeemed.
When I was rejected in friendship, I felt inadequate. Unsure of what it was that I lacked but certain it was indispensable. It is through my identity as a beloved daughter of God, questioned and assured over and over and over, that this loss is being healed. Whoever rejected you, for whatever reason, however long ago, remember this: A war was fought, and is still being fought, for your affection. You are fearfully and wonderfully made; dreamed up in detail, paid for in blood, loved more than you can comprehend.
Undefined or ill-defined loss can shake even the most secure foundation. Wrapping up these experiences is not always possible, but integrating them into our story with healthy perspective—perhaps even claiming a more true and firm identity—is possible. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, all the time, every time. Nothing eludes his healing touch.