It’s time to dispel an unsettling myth that has become popular in our culture in the last couple of decades — that of closure. Closure can mean different things to different people, but in the bereavement arena it is typically defined as letting go, putting “it” behind you or closing the door on the past. When the phrase, “Now you have closure,” is expressed, it’s message is one of confusion for the bereaved — time to be done.
How does one close the door on their grief? On their memories and love? Those of us who have experienced the complex and deeply personal journey associated with losing a loved one find that there is no getting over a loss — no real or imaginary closure.
Most of us will never forget the life altering event of our loved one’s death, nor do we want to. Closing the door on the loss, with all it’s emotional turmoil and mandatory self-discovery, would mean closing our minds and hearts to the memories of the love we shared and time we spent with our loved one.
Rebecca, a woman who recently buried her husband of 27 years, says, “So many people told me at the funeral that I would find closure after I buried my husband. So far I haven’t found it.” She has found that day by day as she faces her grief, that she is on a path of discovering a new normal for herself and her family — and it is an ongoing process.
Rebecca acknowledged that she continued to seek the closure those at her husband’s funeral eluded to, hoping to distance herself from the overwhelming emotions that follow the death of someone dear. She envisioned it much like finishing a chapter in a book. “I just hoped that when I cleaned out his things and gave them away, I would close this chapter of my life,” she said. Unfortunately she discovered that even without her husband’s belongings in her possession, his memory remained and her grief journey continued.
Whether it’s following the funeral or special ceremony, a special anniversary date, removal of wedding rings or distribution of personal items, the pain of loss typically continues. But if attended to and expressed, the pain will soften over time and become transformative.
Some of us, after hearing about this elusive “closure,” but not achieving it, may over time begin to wonder if there is something wrong with us or our style of grieving. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Ashley David Prend wrote on the bereavement Web site, For the Love of Cristy, “Closure is for business deals. Closure is for real estate transactions. Closure is not for feelings or for people we love.”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of my husband’s death. In the past two decades my daughters and I have experienced the painful birth pangs of creating a new life after loss and found goodness and joy again. But I would be remiss if I did not say that the memories we cherish, some which still occasionally stir sadness and pain, have remained with us. And I suspect they will reside in our hearts forever. They are, after all, the very thing that connects us to the person who meant so much to us. I would never close the door on that.
The very essence of grief work is rediscovery of life. That process, difficult as it is, can be embraced but never closed.
So if you haven’t been able to find closure, relax and take a breath. It does not exist. The issue is the underlying message — be done, put it behind you, forget about it. To mourn well and live well, facing the pain of the loss and the treasured memories in everyday life is essential to healing and creating a new normal. This is the way we honor our past, live in the present and move into the future.
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