Wasting Your Time Looking For Closure

closure grief healing loss May 03, 2019

The article title on Facebook caught my eye:

When Closure Eludes You

You knew I was going to have to say something, didn't you. And you were right.

Over and over again I get asked about closure. How long before I reach it? When will I know that I have it?

Here's the truth, folks. There is no such thing.

Closure implies that we can tie things up with a neat bow (finally.) The case is closed. We pack up the notes into the file box and store it in the closet. Only it doesn't happen that way.

We never reach closure when we lose someone in our lives whom we loved, whether it was the child whom we carried but never held or the loved one whose hand we would gladly hold forever. But that doesn't mean that we don't heal.

Our lives will never be as they were had we not had this loss. As a hospital chaplain I often talk with patients in their seventies and eighties. It's striking to me how often the conversation is about their parents. They want to tell me about who they were and how they were, and how they haven't stopped missing them through all of these years.

Healing doesn't mean reaching a static place of closure. It means that the hurt is no longer the dominant force in our lives. It no longer takes up all of the space in the room, that we can get through maybe a day without needing to howl our agony.

Healing doesn't mean wrapping things up. Healing means that we allow ourselves to envision our lives going on without our loved ones physically present in them. It means starting a new chapter in which they belong to our memories and not our futures. It means that after death, we make a choice to reengage with life. It isn't a place we come to. It's a new chapter we live into.

There's also no closure when you've had terrible things happen to you, whether violence or abuse or betrayal by those whom you allowed into the intimate places of your heart. Healing means that you can acknowledge that this is a part of your story but it is not all of your story. You may be a survivor but you are also more. It is claiming the strength of refusing to let anyone else - or anyone else's actions toward us - define who we are. 

Why does all of this matter?

When we think in terms of achieving closure, we set ourselves up for failure. Instead of celebrating each stage of healing we keep searching for that holy grail, as evidenced by the questions I get. We fear we aren't "doing grief right." Understanding that it's all a journey of healing allows us to relax and be present with whatever place we're in for that present moment.

I once had a dream in which I was dancing on a mountaintop. From somewhere voices (angels?) were singing the refrain of an anthem based on the beatitudes of Jesus: Rejoice and be glad; blessed are you, holy are you. Rejoice and be glad, for yours is the kingdom of God.

As I watched this dance, I realized that in this dream I was covered with scars, from head to toe, up one arm and down the other. But from each one of those scars shone a pure and holy and glad light.

That's not achieving closure. That's dancing with healing.

And that's the truth.