During the grieving process, there is a natural desire to find the elusive sense of closure. It’s common to feel frustration trying to work toward it after a loss. The problem is that with grief, closure is never possible. Find out more about grief in all of its complications in Grief Is a Journey: Finding Your Path Through Loss.
Closure is simply not useful in coping with loss. Most bereaved people find that over time their pain lessens and they can function as well—sometimes even better—than they did before the loss. Yet even over time, we may experience short surges of grief, moments where we deeply feel our loss. Grief is not an illness from which we recover, or an event on the way to a destination. Rather, grief involves a lifelong journey, and no single act, or even a combination of actions, changes that.
Of course, there are significant moments in our journey. Funerals are important. A meaningful funeral can have great therapeutic value. In the same vein, an autopsy report might offer information that answers troubling questions. It did so for Georgia. When her twenty-year-old son died of a particularly virulent bacterial meningitis, Georgia was deeply troubled that perhaps she had missed an early symptom or a treatment possibility. Painful as the report was to read, it reassured her that she did all she could. A competent diagnosis and autopsy report can be extremely important in cases like Georgia’s, or in similar situations such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths where our grief can be deeply complicated by fears that something we did or omitted to do caused a death. For Manuel, the autopsy report of a SIDS death eased his fears and those of his wife.
We need to bring closure to the use of the term closure.
While these events might offer a sense of relief or an answer to troubling questions, however, they certainly do not “close” our grief. We need to bring closure to the use of the term closure. Rituals and memorials can help you as you deal with loss. Writing a letter to the deceased and reading it at graveside is an excellent way to convey a feeling that you need to express, or even apologize for something you did or failed to do. But these meaningful steps on your journey do not end your passage. When Georgia was questioned by her friends about whether the report brought her closure, her response said it well: “The report answered many questions. It reassured me—and that was important. But grief is about learning to live with loss.”
It’s not easy knowing when to seek support after a loss. The journey of grief can be seemingly never-ending. We hope that everyone going through the process has the help they need to move through it.