09 September 2011


Closure ~ "a popular psychological term used to describe an individual's desire for a definitive cognitive closure as opposed to enduring ambiguity. It is a need usually provoked after experiencing an emotional conclusion to a traumatic life event, such as the breakdown of a close interpersonal relationship or the death of a loved one .... The need for closure varies across individuals, situations, and cultures. A person with a high need for closure prefers order and predictability, is decisive and close-minded, and is uncomfortable with ambiguity. Someone rated low on need for closure will express more ideational fluidity and emit more creative acts."

That's a summary of the pop-psych understanding of closure, which has more proponents among the lay public than among mental health professionals. The concept of closure is big among those who have something to gain from promoting it ~ funeral home directors, forsenic pathologists, relationship counselors, wrongful death attorneys, psychics.

In her book Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us, sociologist Nancy Burns argues that closure "simply doesn't exist. [It is] a rhetorical concept, a made-up term .... The closure narrative assumes that grief is bad and that it's something that needs to end, and it assumes that closure is possible .... Grief is a difficult, messy experience and can be very painful .... You carry that loss and grief, but you learn how to integrate that into your life. We grieve for a reason. We grieve because we miss the person who died, or because of whatever loss we're experiencing. Our grief expresses how we're feeling and allows us to acknowledge that loss .... People don't need closure. That's just one way to talk about grief. You don't need it to begin healing and to find progress in learning how to live with a loss."

Burns' narrative resonates deeply within me. A culture fixated on tidy, feel-good endings is doing itself a disservice. To paraphrase Zorba the Greek, "Life IS ambiguity, only death is not." When we love someone and they leave us, it is only natural to grieve their absence. Over time, we learn to numb the pain in order to think more clearly about what to do with our lives now. The hole in our heart will always be there, since if healing were complete, we could conveniently forget about the loss. In doing so, we would forget about all the beauty and connection we once shared, all that we learned. And that would dishonor all that was good in the relationship or the situation we've lost.

I think back on exuberant experiences, on loving relationships with people and with animals, on material objects I once owned but no longer do, and I may wish those things were again in my life. I love them still, and ever shall. If that means exposing myself to a wistful moment now and then, I'll take it. Life is not meant to be lived in an emotional bunker. It is meant to be experienced openly and fully ~ even knowing that sometimes joy will end. We have so little time as it is. Closure? That will happen anyway, when we die. Why die prematurely, even a little?

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