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John A. Anderson Headshot

Closure: A Changed Point of View

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"Closure" is defined variously as "conclusion, finish, closing, shutting" and is used in popular speech in reference to events of all kinds. Had you asked me a month ago, I would have told you that the idea was just "psycho-babble" when applied to anything other than a funeral or a capital murder case. Two recent, very different events have caused me to change my attitude.

The first was a big deal. On March 31st, the USO of North Carolina, the N.C. Association of Broadcasters and the Charlotte Motor Speedway sponsored an event to celebrate the service of veterans of the Vietnam War. The idea was to offer veterans a celebratory homecoming some 40 plus years after their service, and by all accounts it worked. As reported in the Charlotte Observer on April 3rd by Elisabeth Arriero, "About 62,500 people -- including vets, their families, members of dozens of advocacy groups and others who just wanted to say "thanks" -- attended Saturday's event."

I read with emotion the accounts of various veterans and the hardships and horrors they suffered while in Vietnam. It's difficult for people who weren't alive at that time to appreciate the turmoil and the enormous division that war caused. Some of the veterans interviewed were volunteers, others were drafted. Either way, those sent to Vietnam quickly found themselves in life or death combat situations with an enemy who didn't wear a recognizable uniform. Those who survived the experience came back to an America that was increasingly polarized against the war. Somehow, the collective anger and frustration was transferred to the military in general and those who served.

Brittany Penland of the Observer interviewed Marine veteran Larry Sloop in her account of the event in Concord. Sloop recalled "Officers told troops to take off their uniforms and "don't tell anybody where you've been or what you've been doing," Personally, when I mustered out of the Navy in 1969, I was accosted on the street in Manhattan and spit at simply because I was in uniform. It didn't matter that I had served on a fleet oiler in the Atlantic fleet.

For the generation that served in that era, and particularly for those who continue to wrestle with war injuries, post-traumatic stress syndrome and the lingering effects of an experience that they really didn't ask for, recognition is long overdue. It appears that the veterans who went to Concord were looking for a measure of closure, and by all accounts many found it. For me, the light began to come on.

Later in March, I witnessed a much more private example of how we humans need to bring finality to one chapter in life in order to move on to the next.

I'm going to use pseudonyms to protect the privacy of the individuals involved. My friend and client "Jake" was summarily fired from a 38-year career for inadvertently violating a company policy regarding correspondence with public officials. He was left both bewildered and angered by the event. What happened next struck me as both beautiful and poignant.

Jake's wife," Laverne," took the initiative to organize a surprise retirement event for him. She contacted colleagues and co-workers from as the beginning of his career to the present and invited them to a simple buffet lunch because she felt that "Jake" needed to know that all his accomplishments and contributions didn't go un-noticed. She organized a "through the years" slide presentation and presented an incredibly detailed account of where he had worked, with whom and on what for the last four decades. The people who attended the lunch also shared their memories. There were lots of laughs, tears and hugs.

The beautiful part was not only the celebration itself, but also the love that was shown in the planning and preparation. A week later, he told me what that event meant to him: His anger and frustration were lifted and he was excited about several new things he had put in motion in the days that followed the luncheon. The light, for me, was now fully lit.

There's a lot of wisdom in the old adage "when one door closes, another opens." The tricky part is fully shutting the first door.