Information & Advice
IS THERE CLOSURE IN GRIEF?
Do you know how to get closure after losing a loved one?
Information & Resources
Is Closure a Myth?
You may be led to believe that after the death of someone close to you, you should achieve “closure” in grief, especially after the funeral.
There is a statement that at times comes after the loss of a loved one. “When you see them laid to rest, you will get closure” or “Have you had closure yet?” or “You should have had closure by now!”
These statements have also often been seen on television and quoted by many. But what is the closure?
In this guide you will find:
Grief and Closure
What is grief closure?
Through human experiences, the field of grief and bereavement has gone through massive change. Loss and grief are part of human life, and we have seen many ways to attempt to make sense of the losses we experience.
In the minds of too many people, closure means putting the past behind them and putting grief behind them. The expression often reflects how people around you want you to “move on with life,” even to the point of asking you to deny or dismiss your grief.
Closure is defined as the ‘act or process of closing something. Has anyone felt ‘closure’ after watching their loved one be buried? The problem with such a blanket term is that it assumes an endpoint. And then what? Do we ride off in the sunset and not have to face our emotions again? Maybe not.
The grief journey is one that an individual embarks on after losing a loved one. A journey is defined as travelling from one place to another. For many, the reality of the loss sinks in once their loved one is buried, and then they begin this journey through the rollercoaster of emotions.
There are many reasons why, in our society, it is so difficult to be patient with grief – in part, because we are conditioned to put a cheerful face on things even when we should be grieving the soul, in part, because of the lack of understanding of the role that hurt, pain and suffering play in the healing process, and in part, because linear time-frames fail to recognize grief when we need to be patient with it.
Is there closure in grief?
It is true that when someone we love dies, the presence of that person ceases – forever – but our experiences of companionship, love, and missing that person live on.
Closure implies that a box with a bright colour ribbon tied in a bow is used to pack all the chaotic feelings and frightened memories. In some way, the feeling of overwhelm is prevented from obscuring your sense of well-being with this bow.
True emotional healing doesn’t require this kind of effort. The grieving process isn’t so neat and straightforward.
In grief, there is no endpoint, or tidy resolution, or sense of completeness. Just as love goes on, so does the grief. There is no closure in grief.
By actively and regularly mourning and integrating loss into our lives over time, we should be able to form healthy ways to cope with loss and grief. Remember – our grief comes with us, we don’t “leave it behind.”
Is there an alternative to closure in grief?
Therefore, it would be wrong to assume that closure happens at a specific point for any given person. Instead, maybe closure is a series of processes through this journey that help an individual find new meaning in life and live without their loved one.
You may be wondering, if there’s no closure in grief, what could you do? We propose reconciling our grief instead of closure.
Grief and Reconciliation
What does reconciling grief mean?
The reconciliation of grief involves readjusting to the new reality of life without our loved one who died. This is not just surviving, but really living, even thriving in life and it takes months and years of hard work to get there.
Rather slowly, you begin to perceive a life that differs from what you had imagined, a life in which you can acknowledge the death of your loved one while learning to remember life. You learn that grief waits for welcome, not time
There is also an acknowledgement that pain and grief are difficult, but necessary aspects of life. With reconciliation and processing secondary losses, a renewed sense of energy and confidence emerges, as well as the ability to become involved in daily life again.
The process of reconciliation is characterised by the realisation that life is and will continue to be dramatically different without our loved one who died. In the process of grieving, reconciliation occurs when we are fully able to accept the full reality and implications of the person’s death. what had been understood at a “head” level is now understood at a “heart” level. There are also emotional and spiritual aspects to working through the death of a loved one.
If you want grief reconciliation, you must first descend, not transcend. Like the famous nursery rhyme ‘going on a bear hunt’, you cannot go around, above, or below your grief. You must go through it. As you go through it, it is important to find ways to continuously express your grief so that it becomes part of your heart and soul
How do I reconcile my grief?
In addition to the managing secondary losses, you can use the four tasks of mourning outlined by Worden to help you reconcile your loss and grief
Worden’s four tasks of mourning suggest that grief should be considered an active process that involves engagement with four tasks
- To accept the reality of the loss
- To process the pain of grief
- To adjust to a world without the deceased
- To find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life.
Suppose we are to consider the fact that grief is a journey involving various milestones that could reflect Worden’s four mourning tasks. In that case, we need to consider the real meaning of closure.
Closure, then, is not just the abrupt ending of something defined by a particular moment, especially early on in the grief process. Instead, it is about truly accepting the reality of a loss and not expecting your loved one to walk through the door.
It is important to realise that a sense of closure is different for everyone. There are many factors that are at play. These range from the relationship you had with the loved one, how the person died and many more. At times closure may not happen especially if someone one died tragically or in the case of complicated grief.
And what it could potentially feel like to have grief closure? While events like a funeral mark the physical closure of the relationship between you and your loved one, the emotional closure still remains open.
As you cannot close the door or the love and memories that have been shared. And maybe that’s a good thing. Often, the term closure is used when those suffering a loss are urged by those around them to ‘get closure’ in order to feel better.
The arrival at a closure does not always equate to a return to normality. For instance where a loved one has died and there is an inquest/investigation the outcome of this may been deemed as the route to closure on the death.
This means that those mourning the loss wait to process their loss and may find themselves ‘stuck’ in a stage of grief. Only to later find that the verdict of the investigation doesn’t actually bring closure, they now have more information. But the fact that their loved one is no more means the matter cannot be closed.
What if I said we never really fully experience closure in grief; and if I added that it’s absolutely okay not to. What is important is to embark on a grief healing journey as our version of what others refer to as ‘closure’ is most likely ‘moving forward’.
In moving forward you don’t simply close the door and forget your past, but you do make decisions to begin to create a new normal.
Tips for avoiding “closure” and moving towards reconciliation of grief
This new normal is different for everyone and can come about in various way such as:
- Intentionally embarking on a healing journey
- Allow time to mourn
- Find forgiveness
- Find someone in your social network who you can confide in
- Join an online grief support group
- Make changes – redecorating, new routines, new job, hair
- Opening your heart to relationships / friendship / being emotionally available.
- Try professional help like counselling or therapy
Whatever, this looks like to you. Please remember that it isn’t necessary to close the door, but instead a true ‘closure’ is remaining open to process pain, re-live memories and make new ones with new experiences. Grieving a loss and being open to life can co exist.
Many people have internalised the idea that closure is a goal when they are grieving.
Without challenging this myth of grief closure, the probability is that we will take it for granted – and then struggle when we find that we can’t cross that mythical finish line. It is possible to become trapped in a tailspin of questions like why are we not getting closure? Is there something wrong with us?
Grief reconciliation does not happen overnight. It emerges the same way babies grow. We often don’t measure their growth daily, but it happens and soon we notice it’s time to change their clothes and shoes.
The same is true for those mourning and grieving their loved ones who do not view themselves each day through the lens of healing. Yet, over time, we realise we have come a long way.
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis describes the way grief symptoms eased as he wrestled with reconciliation. “There was no sudden, striking, and emotional transition,” he wrote. “Like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight, when you first notice them, they have already been going on for some time.”
There is no one moment of “arrival” or closure on the path to grief healing and rebalancing and rebuilding lives. Instead, it is a process of subtle changes and small steps.