I don’t like the word closure, yet it is used a lot in relationship to grief, especially
by TV and newspaper journalists: Students seek closure after a school shooting, or families want closure after the murders
of their loved ones. The word comes from the Latin clausura meaning a finish or conclusion. I often wonder
why media types insist on using it to describe grievers so soon after public tragedies.
The desire for closure
can influence us on a personal level because grief disturbs people. It is very uncomfortable for some friends, co-workers,
and even other family members, to be around sorrow. They want to fix us—and quickly—so we can wrap it up, bring
grief to a conclusion and get back to our former selves. In our efforts to be considerate, we try to comply with this notion
of closure and "snap out of it" because we don’t want to disrupt someone else’s day, or event, with
The pressure to finish grief creates an added burden for us. Not only do we need to grieve,
but we also need to grieve as fast as we can and move on. In other words, we need to find closure. But how do we put an ending
on the permanent loss of the one we loved so much? The answer is we don’t.
There is, however, a type of closure that can give us some perspective on the loss and
assist us in our healing. It can range from learning as much as possible about the details of a fatal accident to finding
a way to say goodbye when there is no body. This perspective allows us to work through the what ifs and if onlys
surrounding the death, and all the other questions or doubts that keep us awake at night.
Understanding the how and why by filling in the gaps allows us to begin mending our own broken hearts, but there
will always be unfinished business. We can never finish everything because grief is not some type of defined work project
with a specific date for completion.
My mother did not want to have open-heart surgery. She wanted to return to
her own home and let nature take its course. After the surgery, she never regained full lung function and she never got off
the critical list. She suffered a lot and she died thirty-three days later. My sister and I struggled with the what ifs
after her death: What if she had gone home without the surgery? What if we hadn’t persuaded her to undergo such a major
procedure? Would we have had more time with our mother then?
Months passed. With the passage of time, and honest
conversations, my sister and I were able to gain a more realistic perspective. Before the surgery Mom was independent, living
alone, driving a car and still working full-time as a librarian. All of her pre-op tests indicated she would make a full recovery.
She told us before surgery that she wanted to be around for a few more Christmases. We explained to her that surgery would
give her that chance. Until her final hospitalization, she was living like a woman thirty years younger than her chronological
age. We had no way of knowing that she would respond post-op exactly like the 85 year-old she was.
After the surgery,
when she could no longer make her own decisions, my sister and I were guided by one question: Is this (treatment, medicine,
procedure) the loving thing to do for our mother? At the end, we loved her enough to stop aggressive treatments for all the
complications and she peacefully took her final journey Home. This perspective—that we made the best decisions we could
for her with the information we had at the time—is a type of closure that I have about my mother’s death.
Grief is a mirror that we hold up as it reflects our loss back to us. We learn to live with the loss, and even smile
again, but it doesn’t go away. As long as we live, we never bring the grief over the death of a loved one to a complete
close. There will always be a reflection of loss gazing back at us in the looking glass.