More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, advocated that stories must have a beginning, a middle and an end. The story begins with a protagonist who seeks answers to her questions, or she sets out on a mission, looking for a way to save the world. Subsequently, as she makes her way through the story’s middle, and often simultaneously- and ultimately, she saves herself in some manner, along the way.
Once the story reaches its ending, our plot, and subplots should provide some kind of closure. While this closure may not necessarily be the closure our readers, or our characters, expected or desired when our protagonist set out on her journey in the first chapter, it will be the closure that transforms her or her world in some way, providing peace, or reconciliation, if not answers or outright resolution.
What exactly is closure? In writing, we create different types of closure for our narratives; one might be structural (or narrative) and another might be psychological (or interpretive or hermeneutic ) closure, or we may apply both to our story endings. In Slap Happy Larry’s Writing Techniques for Geeks, the author explains it this way; Structural closure is the satisfactory round up of plot, while psychological closure brings the main character’s personal conflicts into balance. Because it involves characterization, this type of ending is normally more interesting.
Many times our subplots, in which the protagonist may experience internal change while on the primary plot’s external journey, provides psychological closure as a bonus. And yes, I would agree with the Slap Happy Larry author, that type of closure is more interesting in my view, because it not only transforms the protagonist in some way, but it transforms the reader as well.
Comparably, there is Susan Lohafer’s (author of The Short Story Theory at a Crossroads) definitions for closure in writing. She writes that physical closure refers to the end of a sentence, a paragraph or the story itself, where as, immediate cognitive closure is the feeling the reader gets when she understands the surface meaning of the narrative, and deferred cognitive closure would occur more deeply, as the reader more fully understands the theme and what the story was REALLY about. Hermeneutic/ Interpretive closure usually falls into this category.
Likewise, in life, closure can apply to all kinds of scenarios and will mean different things for different people. An April 2011, Psychology Today author described closure this way; Closure means finality; a letting go of what once was. Finding closure implies a complete acceptance of what has happened and an honoring of the transition away from what’s finished to something new. In other words, closure describes the ability to go beyond imposed limitations in order to find different possibilities.
Similarly, in The Psychology of Closure- and Why Some People Need it More Than Others, Pam Ramsden, a Lecturer in Psychology, writes about closure in break ups, and other situations; The need for closure doesn’t just apply to relationships. The death of a loved one, the loss of a job, status or a way of life are other examples of painful endings. Letting go of something that was once important can be difficult, and many people seek closure in doing so.
She continues to elaborate further ; When we seek closure we are looking for answers as to the cause of a certain loss in order to resolve the painful feelings it has created. In doing this, we appear to form a mental puzzle of what’s happened – examining each piece and its relationship to the overall puzzle. Closure is achieved when we are satisfied that the puzzle has been assembled to our satisfaction, that the answers have been reached and it is therefore possible to move on.
It is worth repeating; as in writing, closure in our lives can mean different things for different scenarios, and it can mean different things for different people. In fact, sometimes, looking for closure might not be the best resolution for an ending. Maybe, to explain this opposing idea in another way, in some cases, not seeking closure is the best closure, if that makes sense. This idea is explained in Alan Wolfelt’s July 2019 article, Putting the Closure on the Use of the word Closure in Grief, in which he points out the difference between closure and reconciliation when the individual seeks closure for a loss due to death. He begins his article with a Tibetan Proverb; “If you are seeking a time when you will be finished, you will never be done.”
He further elaborates on why he feels closure is not the appropriate goal one should pursue when the loss is due to the death of a loved one; For all too many people, closure means leaving grief behind and “putting the past in the past.” But, do we really want to put the past in the past when it comes to the loss of a loved one due to death? Do we really want to avoid mourning or grief so that we can move on to prevent the memory of our loved one from getting in our way? Or should the closure in this scenario be to find a way to carry our grief with us in a way that will not destroy us?
Wolfelt answers this in the following statement; The truth is that we as humans do not get over grief. There is no shutting the door. There is no tidy resolution or total sense of completion. There is no discrete end point. Just as love goes on, so too does grief.
As he goes on to explain, in his article, that closure is not the missing piece in this case, he points to something else to provide peace instead; Our grief comes with us, we don’t “leave it behind.” There is no closure, but there is what I call “reconciliation.” Reconciliation does not happen all at once. Instead, it emerges much in the way grass grows. Usually we don’t check our lawns daily to see if the grass is growing, but it does grow and soon we come to realize it’s time to mow the grass again. Likewise, we don’t look at ourselves each day as mourners to see how we are healing. Yet we do come to realize, over the course of months and years, that we have come a long way.
To further make his point, Wolfelt shares a lesson he learned with regard to this concept; One of my greatest teachers, C.S. Lewis, wrote in A Grief Observed about grief symptoms as they eased on his journey to reconciliation. “There was no sudden, striking, and emotional transition,” he wrote. “Like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight, when you first notice them, they have already been going on for some time.”
On the path to healing, there usually is not one great moment of “arrival” but rather a myriad of subtle changes and small achievements. It’s helpful to have gratitude for every small step along the way. If you are beginning to taste your food again, be thankful. If you mustered the energy to meet your friends for lunch, be grateful. If you finally got a good night’s sleep, rejoice.
On the other hand, with regard to other types of loss, outside death of a loved one, and other types of closures, in which we question the ending or ourselves, and what part we played in it, closure can help us come to terms with what happened and to learn how to avoid the same mistakes in the future. This is outlined in Sanford’s Coaching Guide for Teachers; Elements of A lesson Closure, where the author describes closure in writing narrative as follows: closure should summarize what was learned, check for student understanding, and transition to future instruction.
Closure in writing is a form of tying together the lose ends in our stories, connecting the dots, conveying the last, missing piece of our message, or placing the big red bow on the package we wrapped so carefully for our reader. It is a vehicle to transport our protagonist from the starting line of our story all the way through each chapter, to the finish line at the end, where she can look back over the course of her journey and recognize the detours she should not have taken or the ones she should have taken and didn’t, and appreciate the strength it took to climb over the obstacles in her way, and ultimately, feel transformed because of it.
Similarly, in life we seek closure for the goals we never reached, the relationships that didn’t work out, the dreams that fell apart, and for the loved ones we lost along our way. We lose loved ones when we grow apart, or when we are unable to see eye to eye, when we fail to communicate, listen, or understand, and we lose some when they spread their wings, or when they move away. We lose others when they really were never ours to begin with, and tragically, we lose some through illness, tragedy and death. Sometimes, like the protagonist who seeks resolution, we might even lose ourselves or a part of ourselves, in some measure.
As I close my blog series for 2020, I think back on this past year and the endless challenges, sadness, tragedies, adversities, divisions and losses we all faced. And yet despite all of that, I also see the strength we each found within ourselves to somehow make it through this year. As each one of us started out at the year’s beginning, we were unprepared for the villain that would threaten us and our life stories. This evil thief and murderous villian would alter the path before us, in an unprecedented, permanent and life-changing manner. Yet, like our heroes in the narratives we write and read, we persevered through the story’s arduous middle in spite of Covid-19, and we remained supportive of one another’s struggles along the way. We finally arrived at the end of this 2020 story, where we stand now, together in the final chapter, in which we seek our own peaceful closures, to help us transition to future instruction, in the year ahead.
The COVID-19 virus attacked all of our lives to varying measures and degrees. There is not one single individual who was not affected in some way by this horrible, villainous virus. Some suggest there is a reason this happened to us, and others say it is a lesson from which we all must learn- if we want to follow our creator’s plan- to seek and share love and peace amongst one another. Closure, in my view, is about finding that peace. Whether it comes in some form of definitive text book closure, or it comes as reconciliation of our grief, we seek closure to not only survive, but to find a way, somehow- to thrive again.
As Wolfelt said; You don’t get to go around or above or below your grief. You must go through it.
Again, it is my view that closure will be different in different scenarios, and it will mean different things for different people. Whether your closure is to learn a lesson, say good-bye, accept the end of something or to get through tremendous grief, it should bring peace and hope for new beginnings and possibilities.
The author of the April 2014 Writing Center article; How to give your paper closure, said this about closure: There’s satisfaction in order, thoughts falling into place and clicking shut, but maybe it’s best if you don’t shut the door too tightly, or at the least, don’t slam it. Obviously you need to finish what you have begun, but leave the paper open just enough so we can get a glimpse beyond the ideas that you address, the big questions and ideas your paper borrows from. The world is too big to have the last word on anything. You want to end strongly, but there is a limit to what you can put into your paper. There will always be new questions; in fact, all answers will lead to new questions. When you’re about to leave, try ending with some of the world’s possibility in your conclusion.
As writers, our story is not ready for submission until we complete what we started. We engage our readers from prologue through epilogue, and we leave them feeling changed in some way. Likewise, in life, individuals desire closure because we need to find peace, and to heal, and we need to find some way to accept the ending of something so that we can move on, somehow. At the same time, we look to the promise that our larger, more encompassing story isn’t quite over yet even when we feel as though it is. There will be resentments to get over, guilt to let go of, broken hearts to mend, and new conquests to take on.There will be more questions to answer, other journeys to travel, and future chapters to write.
As we each write our own endings for 2020 and we look ahead to the coming year, we must do our best to look for peace no matter where it is hiding or how difficult it is to find. We must not give up or put it off. Our losses each year, especially this past year for so many, help define who we are and enrich our own life stories. Each loss’s lingering impact on our lives will remain with us forever. Finding closure is finding peace, and learning how to carry our losses with us, in a healthy and hopeful approach.
As we mourn this past year, and we write our own closures, we will rise up like the Phoenix and embrace the future unfolding before us. Whether we inspire our readers in our stories or we encourage or support one another in our lives, we will close this chapter of our lives peacefully and hopefully, as we await a brand new, better beginning in 2021.
Wishing all of my family, friends, acquaintances both old and new, and my blog followers and readers a peaceful, healing and blessed holiday season, whatever that holiday may be, and the happiest and healthiest new year ever. May ALL your days be merry and bright and bring you purpose and whatever closure is meant for you, and may God bless us all.
Hope to see you all back here in 2021, in my new beginning.