Grief and Ambiguous Endings

Kelsey Laulainen, MA, LMHC, Clinical Supervisor on Jun 06, 2022 in Mood and Feelings

To be human is to experience grief. From denial to acceptance, grief consumes the full spectrum of our emotional experience. We grieve when there is loss: death, unmet expectations, breakups, miscarriages, time. Yet, how do we grieve endings that haven’t quite ended?

Ambiguous endings, like the ending of a pandemic that isn’t quite over, is like a relationship with no closure. There’s no marker to honor the time we spent together and little hope for a new beginning ahead. Instead, we’re left in a grief-filled limbo, holding the heaviness of sadness and anger, confused about whether there’s even been an ending at all. Did we miss it? Did our ending go by without our noticing? This is what makes endings that haven’t quite ended so difficult to grieve.

Mourning when there’s no closure begins with self-directed compassion and kindness. We pay close, loving attention to the parts of us that are caught in the middle of their grief, waiting for a moment of closure, while welcoming the bits of us that have settled into acceptance and are looking at the horizon ahead. There may not be a cairn to mark the ending because maybe we are the ones who are meant to place it there. We can harness our agency and choose for ourselves to mark the ending loosely while holding the complexity that there may be some parts of us that will never stop grieving at all.

Most importantly, we don’t have to walk this journey alone. Grief is universal and communal. We all have felt the impact of loss, especially in the last two years. We can be brave and invite others into the vulnerability of grieving ambiguous endings. We don’t need to carry this heaviness alone.

Kelsey Laulainen is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Seattle, WA.

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