Dr. Stephen J. Forman wrote a great column in the January 6 edition of the Wall Street Journal column. It was entitled, “No, You Don’t Need ‘Closure’.”
“The experience of loss after a lingering illness like cancer, though more expected, is just as deeply felt,” he wrote.
Yes, I’ve heard a lot about closure, in funeral homes, living rooms, and my office.
Dr. Forman continues, “As time passes, we often hear how important it is to gain closure—a way of tidying up to help us move on with our own lives. The reality is that closure is a myth. My personal and professional experience with those who have lost friends and family, including children, has taught me that going on with life is not the same as gaining closure. The wound of loss is a part of each person’s life forever.”
Well said, Dr. Forman. And I’d like to respond.
My own personal and professional experience suggests that the language of closure speaks to a couple of deep needs.
The first is the need to attend to the death. We must make the arrangements, shake hands in the line at the funeral home, and be there at the funeral or memorial service. These rituals—religious or not—are the final act of care for this person we love. We cared in life. We care in death. We show up. It’s a balm for the wound in the first days of healing, when that wound can be almost unbearable. We surround ourselves with others who care and learn that we are not alone.
Closure? No, but we witness to lives well lived, and it matters.
The second deep need to which the language of closure speaks is the need for completion.
As a seminary student, I was advised that the difficulty of a funeral is directly related to the amount of “unfinished business” in the family who has lost the loved one.
How much was left unsaid and undone, by the living and the dead? What are the conversations that never took place? The work that is left incomplete? The broken relationships never healed?
It is greater when the person has died young, a youth or child or infant. What might the girl have made of her life? What might the boy have chosen for a career? What might the child have become?
It’s greater, too, when the person has taken his or her own life. Why did she do it? What made him so desperately unhappy? What might we have done to help?
And finally it is greater any time that a relationship is left incomplete: when father and son never reconciled, when husband and wife never addressed the problems they faced in their marriage, when brothers and sisters never understood why their mother made the choices she made.
But here’s the rub: In every death, there is some amount of unfinished business. Every death. Every time.
And every time, we find available to us upon the immeasurable strength of the Christ who died for us.
By faith, we can and may find the strength to let go of all the unfinished business and rest in God’s grace. We find such strength to let go, because Jesus had the strength to face down death and to overcome it. Jesus was dead, and yet he rose again. Our loved ones have died, and we will die, but by the power of Jesus Christ, we will rise again and live again. That new life won’t be burdened with whatever may be left over from this life. We will be with the ones we love, and we will all be with God.
Closure? Yes, but not of the sort Dr. Forman describes. It’s closure as only our God can finally offer.
Here’s the link Dr. Forman’s column: http://www.wsj.com/articles/no-you-dont-need-closure-1452124858