Few words make me angrier than a word that is constantly used toward and within the bereaved community.
As used today, "closure" refers to some magical, mysterious component that we are all assumed to be frantically seeking on our Healing Journeys. "Closure" has become some kind of ultimate goal for which we are supposed to be striving. This alleged goal is somehow achieved when one day, we wake up and ta-da! The pain, the loneliness, the sorrow, the anger and the raw grief have vanished overnight.
How many times have you been told, "Now you'll have closure" (or words to that effect) since your loss? Have you heard it once? Twice? Have you heard it eight thousand times? If so, I am going to save you a lot of time and frustration in the search for closure by revealing a huge secret:
There is no such thing as "closure." Quit looking for it.
When news of the death of Bin Laden hit the airwaves in May, 2011, I too was tuned in to the news for hours on end. However, almost immediately after the President's announcement that the mastermind behind the worst terrorist attack in America's history was indeed dead, reporters, anchors, correspondents, pundits, laypeople and worst of all, people who call themselves "experts" (and should ostensibly know better), took to their microphones and their keyboards and began throwing around the word "closure" in reference to the survivors of the victims of September 11, 2001; the survivors of lost military loved ones; the survivors of first responders, rescue workers, public safety employees and many others who have died as a direct result of September 11. Alarmingly, the collective attitude was, "Bin Laden is dead. Now all these poor survivors can start feeling good again because they have closure."
Did anyone ever once stop to think that rather than "closure", many survivors and loved ones were actually experiencing a "grief revisit" instead? That rather than feeling some kind of miraculous "closure" or doing the Dance of Joy or popping champagne corks, these brave souls were instead back in a place of horrendous pain? That just maybe, Bin Laden's death brought horrific memories back to vivid life? Did anyone ever once stop to consider that as a result of Bin Laden's death, many of the survivors felt as though they were literally starting from square one in their recovery?
(...and that's what I said on the air).
Here's a newsflash (or perhaps what should have been an actual newsflash): The death of a loved one is something from which you move forward. It becomes a part of you, just like a part of your body. You do not "close" it. You do not close off love and you do not close off relationships and the lives and memories that were built as a result. Further, as with the many thousands of September 11 survivors left behind, opportunities may arise where you too experience a "grief revisit"... and that's completely OK. Grief revisits do not mean that you haven't healed or are not still in the process of healing. It simply means that you have had a trigger-moment in time which you have ever right to give in to, address and from which you will continue forward.
I have been quacking and writing and shouting at the top of my lungs for years about the word "closure" and how there is truly no such thing -- at least not when it comes to loss. Closure is something that surgeons do when they complete an operation. Closure is what happens to the fast lane on the freeway after a car accident, generally during rush hour. Unfortunately and as defined by far too many, "closure" apparently means that you have either the desire or the capability to put the loss behind you and just leave it in the past. Essentially, the word "closure" has become a more diplomatic way to say, "Get on with it. You're done now, you're over it, it's closed"... because people are either uncomfortable with or do not care to deal with what you have been through in the past or what you may be going through right now. In other words, the Closure Crowd is dictating your healing timeline and your Healing Journey.
Now, do not confuse "closure" with "healing". You absolutely can and should pursue healing and moving forward from your loss experience in healthy ways. But "closure"? Never. First of all, you cannot have something that does not exist and we know that closure does not exist. Secondly, even if you had the ability to "close" your mind and your heart to your love and your loss experience, why would anyone want to? Why would anybody willingly "close" themselves off from a huge part of their life? Why would I want to "close" the life that I had with my late husband? Have I healed and moved forward from the tragic loss and raw pain that was my husband's death and the over-two years that led up to his death? Yes, I have. Do I have closure? Absolutely not.
So to all of the courageous survivors... to the widowed, the children who have lost parents, the parents who have lost children, the siblings who have been torn apart, the dear friends who now count one less in their tightly woven circles of love and to anyone who has lost someone they love and treasure (please note, that's present tense), I will repeat what I also discuss in both books. Rather than think of your healing journey in terms of achieving this myth called "closure", I encourage you instead to think of your loss as the life-altering event that it is and from which you move forward. Do you want to leave the horrible feeling of grief and anguish behind? Of course you do. But "slam the door" on your past? No way. You will instead bring your loss experience forward with you as you move forward into your new life.
It is my fervent hope that through continued education and by standing up as a community and shouting "Stop it!", the word "closure" will once again be confined to surgeons and freeway shut-downs. Until then, I am going to keep right on making noise. I am going to keep screaming "Stop it!". I am going to keep on reassuring millions of people with broken hearts, holes in souls and weeping spirits that you don't have to "close" anything.
Not now... and not ever.
Carole's latest book, "Happily Even After..." has won the prestigious Books for a Better Life Award. For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit www.widowswearstilettos.com
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