Chasing after Closure
I keep reading in the newspapers about survivors of tragedy or death seeking “closure”. Yet no one really defines what closure means, whether it is possible, or how to get there.
For many in our society, closure means leaving grief behind, a milestone usually expected within a matter of weeks or months. Closure means being “normal”, getting back to your old self, no longer crying or being affected by the death. It means “moving on with life” and leaving the past behind, even to the extent of forgetting it or ignoring it. For we who have experienced death, this kind of closure is not only impossible but indeed undesirable.
Closure, if one even chooses to use the term, is actually more a process than a defined moment. The initial part of closure is accepting the reality. At first, we keep hoping or wishing that it weren’t true. We expect our loved one to walk through the door. We wait for someone to tell us it was all a huge mistake. We just can’t accept that this person has died, that we will never physically see them again on earth, that we will not hear their voice, feel their hug, or get their input on a tough decision. Usually it takes weeks or even months for the reality to finally sink in. We come to know, in both our heads and our hearts, that our loved one has died and is not coming back. We still don’t like it, but we accept it as true.
As the reality sinks in, we can more actively heal. We begin making decisions, and start to envision a life different from what we had planned before, a life in which we no longer expect our loved one to be there. We grow, struggle, cry, and change. We form fresh goals. We face our loneliness. We feel the pain and loss, but except for short periods of time, we are not crippled by it. We also make a shift in memory. Memories of our loved one, rather than being painful as they were at first, sometimes make us smile or even laugh.
This healing phase takes a very long time, and involves a lot of back-and-forthing. We alternate between tears and joy, fears and confidence, despair and hope. We take two steps forward and one step back. We wonder whether we’ll ever be truly happy again, and often doubt that we will.
Eventually we realize we are taking the past, with all its pain and pleasure, into a new tomorrow. We never forget, and in fact we carry our beloved with us; he or she is forever a cherished part of who we are. We are changed – by the experience of having loved this person, by the knowledge of life’s transience, and by grief itself. We become different and hopefully better, more compassionate, more appreciative, more tolerant people. We fully embrace life again, connecting, laughing, and loving with a full heart.
Still, there is no point of “final closure”, no point at which you can say, “Ah, now I have finally completed my grief.” Or “Yes, now I have healed.” There is no point at which you will never cry again, although as time goes on the tears are bittersweet and less common. Healing is a life-long process, one in which you often don’t even realize you are healing until you look back and see how far you have come.
“Closure”? I don’t think so. Acceptance – yes. Peace – yes. Hope – definitely. But putting a period behind the final sentence and closing the book on it? No, life and love are much too complex for that. The story does not end; instead it awaits the next chapter.
© 2011, Amy Florian. Used by permission.