I have a confession to make, something still niggling at me from back when I was working as a psychologist. I never was very good at ending the therapeutic relationship after the healing and recovery had taken hold. We were supposed to be able to … you know, be able to say to people that they were all better now and that they didn’t need to come to sessions anymore.
There were crutches that the mental health industry provided to help us navigate termination (yes, that’s what we in the profession called it!). Sometimes agencies or third party funders would limit the number of sessions that a person could have. That made it easy. And sometimes there were supervisors who were happy to be the boogie men, relishing saying when the deed had to be done.
Occasionally, a person didn’t come back for a scheduled session. Back when I was working for a government agency if a client failed to come to three scheduled appointments in a row the file was to be closed. If that client wanted services again, they had to go back through the intake procedure all over again, perhaps just to be triaged out. Some therapists were better at having their clients cancel or not show up than I was.
What seemed to work the best for me was to have the active stage of therapy fade backward in time by making sessions further and further apart. Doing so felt like I was just becoming less relevant rather than dismissive or abandoning.
I often posed a question to my clients: How will we know when we are done? They never posed it back to me. But at least my asking the question suggested that there was such a thing as done-ness in the therapy biz. I think it helped a bit, nudging us toward the decision that we didn’t need to rebook but the client could call back if the need arose again.
Now you might be wondering why I would ever be remembering this now, four years later.
It’s because as a writer now I need to get good at ending things. The publisher for An Incoming Tide was pretty clear that a book of the type I was writing needed to finish off around 300 pages or so. That was about price and marketability. Short story contests tell me how many words are allowed. One contest gives a grace allotment of 100 words over the limit, which is kind of gracious.
And once the story is told, an author needs to consider how to get the reader out of it. Will the loose threads be wrapped up? If so, how neatly? Should there be an ending that leaves a feeling of contentment and resolution? What about leaving things hanging a bit, or even setting up a sequel? Perhaps there might be a twist 90% of the way through the story, something the reader doesn’t expect but makes a lot of sense in its own way. That approach can provide an unexpected but satisfying ending.
By the way, I have a pretty interesting ending on laugh-out-loud humorous story I have just written. Quite touching actually. I can send that story out to you if you send me an email at email@example.com.
I mention this because we all happen to be living with an uncertain ending. I’m more aware of it now, cruising along in my eighth decade of life.
Illness and natural causes typically allow one a slow, if not dignified ending. Fatal injury could truncate a life leaving lots of loose threads for others to try to tie up. And one could always DYI the ending of life through suicide. Unfortunately, that’s really hard on those left with the loose ends … not fair to them at all.
I grew out of a religious tradition that dealt with death by promising an beatific afterlife: not for everybody of course, just for those who put their faith in the right theological system.
There are other spiritual thoughts around endings, like for all things there is a season. I like the notion of life being about periods of ascendance, sustaining, and dissipation. We see patterns in nature of germination, blooming and dying off. I hope for a composting of the self I leave behind: the memories of the loves that I’ve shared, and the kindnesses I’ve shown, left to nurture others as they continue their own time-limited journey.
The short stories I’m writing these days give me lots of practice with ending things before I slam headfirst into the word count limits. I’m practicing doing those little plot twists, writing in some irony to leave readers with a bit of something to muse over.
By the way, I never know what the ending is going to be when I start a piece of fiction. I start with a premise, characters, some of the possible plot elements. Then I write to find out where it will go. In that, writing fiction is quite a bit like living one’s life.
As an author, I hope to do something more than just entertain. Just perhaps, what I write might plunge the reader into some exploration of meaning, the recognition that whether one ever thinks of it or not, we all are caught up in the same existential plight. It is only true courage, wisdom and honesty that enables us to face our endings without the crutches of denial or avoidance.
This blog is coming to an end. Will there be a twist?
I can’t think of one.
Clickable links to previous blogs.
September 2023 - Sacred ground
August 2023 - Are we there yet?
July 2023 - How smart is SMART?
June 2023 - Only half there
May 2023 - Who gets to write the story?
April 2023 - Intersubjectivity. Hunh?
March 2023 - A disturbing trend
February 2023 - About being in the middle
January 2023 - Can we have a little heart here please?
December 2022 - A story about story
November 2022 - Facing One's Fears
October 2022 - Transitional folk
September 2022 - Transitions
August 2022 —At the other end of life's journey
July 2022—The problem with what emerges.
June 2022 — So who am I doing this for anyway?
May 2022 - Wait for it ... wait ...
April 2022 — Someone called me a Nazi.
March 2022 — Shush! Don't tell anyone.
February 2022 — So does life imitate art? Well, maybe sometimes.
January 2022 — The two most powerful lines in the book.
December 2021 — About time and being human.
November 2021 — Not a tidy little murder mystery
October 2021 — Flow versus focus.
September 2021 -- It's beautiful because it tells the truth.