I often hear people speak about finding closure after a major life trauma or loss. When a loved one dies or a relationship ends, we say we are seeking closure. We long for relief from the voices in our heads telling us that we should have done more or loved better. We may hope for absolution for our own bad behavior, or crave vindication for the lousy way we’ve been treated. We tell ourselves that when we find closure we will finally be done grieving and able to move on.
The popular wisdom says that grief typically happens in five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This is a rather neat and orderly description of a process that is innately messy and disorderly. The stages tend to overlap, get stuck on replay and sometimes even spill over into other conditions like depression, addiction or obsession.
But is closure really the prize that’s waiting for us at the end of the grieving process? After we’ve struggled through all those stages, and cried all those tears, is it reasonable to expect to feel some sense of closure? Or is closure an illusion that will forever elude our grasp?
I’ve come to the conclusion that the purpose of grieving is not closure at all. Rather, what our grief requires of us is our loving attention. It asks us to acknowledge and tend to our sacred wound with patience and compassion for ourselves. It does not want our despair. Nor does it want to be hidden away behind a façade of acceptance. It does not ask us to give up on our hopes for happiness, nor does it want us to pretend that the pain has gone away.
The notion of closure implies that we can stop grieving, pick up the pieces of our shattered selves and go on with our lives. But the simple fact is that we can never go back to our lives. That old life is over. A major loss changes us forever.
Grief asks that we be with it and allow it the space it needs to express itself. Over time, the expression of our grief becomes less frequent, less intense, and we slowly heal.
There is no closure, but hopefully we come to accept that we have been changed by our loss, and that grief has become a part of us. And that in this changed person, there is still plenty of room to grow and love and find joy again.