April 16, 2014

Grief and Closure

When bad things happen, do we need closure?

My friend Erica recently sent me this TED talk on grief and closure. In it, Sociologist Nancy Burns discusses the space between grief and closure. She talks about how closure isn't even something we should strive for and how it doesn't even exist. She gives examples of people who have endured heartache and tragedy and how they have grieved and been able to move on with their life in a healthy manner, but never fully experience closure of their grief or their loss. She not only explores this as a sociologist, but as someone who has endured loss, and therefore grief, herself when her first child was stillborn. She said a lot of things that resonated with me and I wanted to share a few.

Don't tell them to find closure. Meet them where they're at.

She talks about how when you see someone grieving, a loved one especially, you want to end their pain. You want to bring them out of the circle of grief and back in to the circle of joy. But that's not what we should do. We need to recognize that someone can carry grief and joy simultaneously and we shouldn't push closure on them, but rather let them experience their pain and be there along with them while they do.

The concept of closure distorts what's going on with our grieving.

Closure makes it seem like there is a definitive end in sight. And when you are grieving, especially in the thick of it, it's easy to want to feel like there will be an end to your pain and those that love you want to take away your pain. Because in those early days and weeks, the pain is all consuming. When I went out in public the first few times after losing Cale, I had a lot of anxiety. My heart would literally race and I'd be on the edge of tears when doing simple things like grocery shopping. What if someone asked me about my baby? What if no one did? Can they tell by looking at me that I just lost my child? What if I run into someone who hadn't heard? Etc. It was suffocating and so hard. But, it got easier. But it didn't get easier because I found closure or had it pushed upon me. It got easier because little by little joy trickled back into my life. And the thick circle of grief I was in started to blend with the circle of joy that existed, but was hard to see, much less experience.

We live in a world that needs to be in better touch with our humanity.

I loved that line. We need to know that it's ok to carry both joy and grief together. That they don't have to be separate entities. I don't need to have this false sense of closure over losing my first born son to be able to continue on in life and love and find joy in my other children. I think one of  the most important things you can do when someone has experienced loss (of any kind), is to respect their grief over that loss and what it means to them.

There's freedom in knowing you don't need closure to heal.

There really is. It's just that you often don't realize that until the healing has already begun. I liked this line because it recognizes there is a difference in healing and closure. Closure implies you're all done, you're all better. And it just doesn't work like that. I'm continually healing over the loss of Cale and will be the rest of my life. I've long since gotten over the anxiety of going out in public, newborn babies (especially boys) don't make me want to burst into tears as they once did. I've healed in many ways. But, I will always grieve. I will grieve for the enormity of his loss and all that could have been. I will grieve for what we have missed out on these past few years and what we (and he) will miss out on the rest of our lives. And that grief - it's ok. The loss is not ok, but the grief is.

We grieve because we love.


  1. This post was like a little gift for me on an impossible day. It's so hard to know what to think lately, and this gives me some guidance. Thank you so much.

  2. This was beautiful. "The loss is not ok, but the grief is". Well said, sister. When I grieve over Cale it's very emotional, still feels so raw and painful. I'm ok with that because that gigantic amount of sadness and grief that I feel through every bit of me reminds me of how gigantic the love is that I have for him. I'm am forever grateful of our week together in May of 2010. Touching your belly and feeling my little nephew's feet kicking. My heart feels warm and heavy every time I remember that moment. I can't believe how lucky my hands are. Love you and your beautiful family.

  3. As someone who has never experienced that magnitude of loss, this was so helpful for me to read. And I think it's so true that our culture has completely loss all sense of how to grieve...even when you look back in history and see how there were periods of mourning where people were able to show the public that they'd experienced loss wjth what they wore. Not that those prescribed timelines are for everyone, but I think leaving some of that behind has definitely cause the world to become less aware of the ever-present grief that so many people carry every day. And we need to be taught how to remember and what is normal and how we should respond. Thanks for being one of those teachers.