When Endings Don’t Go Well

In the first part of this series on endings, Dan introduced the idea that every ending is a mini-death, and, as such, we often treat them as something to be avoided or prolonged. In Part Two, Dan discussed what can happen on the other side of a major ending, when we self-sabotage out of an inability to experience delight. And last week, he shared how to mark an ending well, with both celebration and grief.

This week, Dan continues these ideas by discussing something most of us are all too familiar with: endings that have gone terribly wrong.

“I’m talking about endings that leave the heart with great loss and great emptiness. […] There are some endings that are even more traumatic, because they open the door to even greater levels of heartache.”

Dan breaks this type of ending into three categories: death, dreams that go unfulfilled, and the primary focus of this week’s podcast, divorce—not just literal, marital divorce, but any sudden, painful ending of a relationship.

“A divorce is an ending that just keeps churning up debris, a death that doesn’t stop. […] The loss is so overwhelming that something in you does not know how to live and therefore keeps mourning, keeps being haunted by the loss itself.”

What comes after those endings includes, for many people, overwhelming anxiety, manic energy, and an internal war of regret and recrimination that leads to exhaustion and despair.

“The drama of an ending that does not go well creates a reverberation with aftershocks that is relentless for a lengthy period of time.”

How are we meant to engage this kind of heartache? Instead of turning to an addictive process or dissociation, as is so often the case, Dan urges us to acknowledge and grieve everything that we have lost.

“We are meant to grieve. […] Grieving is not a simple process with demarcable steps that are equivalent for each and every person that goes through a similar experience. […] The surrender that grief requires with regard to this kind of loss is the ability to own what was, what is, and what will be if my heart is alive to the desire of God.”

What was the reality of the world I have lost? What is the reality of my present life? Will I dare to allow myself to dream and desire again? Dan uses these questions as a lens for reading Psalm 55, in which David is lamenting the betrayal of a close friend. The challenge for us is to acknowledge the scars left by every ending, while still leaning into healing and the hope for resurrection.

“Bear the scar. Let the scar be a symbol, a reminder, an icon that you do bear the death of Christ, that he bears death for you. […] It isn’t meant to say that this is a way to make positive merely the harm of the past. It’s an intent to be able to say the resurrection wins, and no death, no divorce, no loss of dreams has a final command over who you are and who you are meant to be. […] Ruin and harm will not have the final word.”

No death, no divorce, no loss of dreams has a final command over who you are meant to be.”