Welcome to my first blog ever. I have picked a somber topic. A therapist’s office is where we share our loss and the grief that life inevitably brings our way.
Loss presents itself sometimes subtly and often dramatically. It grabs for us in so many ways. It ravages our bodies, it destroys our family life, it eats into our workplaces, it can tear apart our culture setting us against each other and it is threatening the well being of the entire planet. We know this. Once I could dive into Georgian Bay and just drink the water. Once my hands were not crippled with arthritis.
Once… and you can fill in the story. And then it is gone. Sorrow and lament begin.
Right now we, as a culture are presented with the dramatic loss of homeland for 3 million Syrian refugees. Warsan Shire, a 24 year old Kenyan Somali poet, has offered a stunning poem called No One Leaves Home which articulates the sorrow. Here are the opening lines
“no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well”
What are we to do when loss arrives at our door and we must travel with it? I think that the current road maps for grief need some rethinking. In this blog I address the road map called “closure”.
These days, closure is used everywhere as an ideal to be attained by grieving persons or groups of people. The concept speaks to a lot of people and is a helpful part of their journey with grief. We as a culture want “to move on” and experience that the future is better.
However for a lot of people “closure” does not work. Sociologist Nancy Berns has written a book in 2011 aptly named Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What it Costs Us.
As applied to grief (and not ziplock bags!) closure has to do with an end of a traumatic event or the end of an emotional process. Nancy Berns tells us it is a very “tangled concept”.
In contrast to thinking that closure is a goal that brings grief to an end, I think that grief is a part of life. As explored in the current children’s film Inside Out sadness is as normal as joy, or fear or anger or shame. Of course it is important to differentiate sadness from depression. Still I think living with grief as a companion can often be a healthy option.
Did you know that there is a eHow page on the internet that will tell you how in 6 steps to get “closure” on the death of a child? Having lost two children as a young mom and so long ago, I am one of those who find such a thought offensive.
There are also forms of grief that fall outside the criteria for grief that society commonly accepts.“Normal” grief is experienced by those who have lost a loved one in death. Two other forms of such loss have been identified as ambiguous loss and disenfranchised grief. In both cases it is harder to apply the rules of closure.
In ambiguous loss there is no verification of the death, often a big part of the closure process. There is a physical loss but a psychological presence. This happens in natural disasters, separation from family due to divorce, adoption and migration. And there is also the physical presence and psychological absence where Alzheimer’s, brain injury, mental illness of some kinds, and coma describe the situation.
Disenfranchised grief is grief that is not publicly acknowledged, such as the loss of lovers, friends, pets, coworkers, LGBTQIA community, miscarriage, adoption, or abortion.
For me it is sad that there are people in these types of grief who think they must have “closure” as society currently instructs them. Then they learn that it will always elude them because of their unique circumstances.
I encourage you to give thought to this concept of closure. It is powerful. Does it make it possible to avoid hard political realties? What is behind this or that mass shooting? For example does “closure “ help policy makers avoid seriously challenging gun registration rules?
I cannot help but think that if the loss one experiences is the result of violent behaviour by another individual then closure is a concept that favours the perpetrator of the violence. The sooner the “victim” moves on, the less light is shed upon the perpetrator’s actions. And I am aware that both victim and the perpetrator need to find healing for the grief suffered and the grief caused.
Closure has given the funeral industry a new business when coffins and embalming gave way to cremation. People are now offered grief counselling to help gain closure. There is a heavy emphasis on should. Closure “should” happen.
I come back to my thought that mourning is a way of life. Losing my children changed me. I move “with this reality ” and not “ on from it”. I am still learning about healing from such a loss. I still think about what it would have been like had they lived. In my senior years I have time to think about it even more. And this journey is true of all my other losses as well. They continue to shape who I am and require continued reflection. Hopefully these losses help me to be more compassionate with others who suffer in similar ways. Hopefully they help me to be more tolerant, and more appreciative of life’s gifts of joy and love when they pop up and astonish me with their healing power. There will always be moments when I stop and weep for the losses that are part of my journey. And thankfully these losses help me to experience, with a wiser perspective, the raindrop in all its life-giving glory.