What then is helpful in dealing with loose ends? To tie them up seems to be false or shut away from reality. To leave them untied is to carry a tiring burden that threatens our confidence in our self worth. The bereavement process suggests that what happens is that there is no finish but there is change. Bowlby emphasised the central importance of forgiveness, a word that has always struck me. I guess this is because it is taken away from religion and placed in a psychological context in a way that parallels my own development. However, the interesting thing about forgiveness is how active a concept it is, as opposed to ‘acceptance’ which can have a sense of resignation about it. It is also deeper than reassurance which can be offered ‘easily’ without fully having to acknowledge the difficulty at hand. For Bowlby, forgiveness was associated with a move forward to a new way of using the past.
When I try to think what then has helped people to deal with unfinished business, the first thought that comes to mind is about transforming the experience into something that can be used in the future. When working in the Bereavement project, the volunteers often discovered new value to their past pain. The ‘if only’s were seen as an important and valuable experience that helped them to empathise more effectively with the project’s clients. This helped them to forgive themselves for what they didn’t say or do in their own loss.