Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Myth of Closure ...

Hi everyone! I've been working hard on the chronic sorrow book all summer and while doing some research for it, I came across a TED Talk by Nancy Berns, sociologist and author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us. It was great to see that someone this thoughtful had taken the time to address our society's popular myth that closure is the endpoint of grief.

We all live with loss. In fact, transition specialist, Bill Bridges, says that, "Where there's change, there's loss; where there's loss, there's grief." So, even if we have a positive change like a new baby or a new job or move to a new house, we still lose whatever it was that we had before - and thus we grieve.

Grief is painful. When we grieve, we automatically start looking for ways to alleviate the pain and move on, to find closure as quickly as possible. But Nancy Berns says that there is no such thing as closure:

Closure doesn't even exist. It's a made up concept that we use to talk about sadness and grief...that can do more harm than good. ... We don't need closure to heal.

The notion of closure seduces us, though. It promises that we can escape the painful place of grief and return to joy through closing off our grief. This notion distorts what's actually going on with our grief. The truth is that we don't leave grief to go to joy - the two are entwined like light and shadow. We can experience both at the same time so we don't have to push for premature "closure" in order  to feel some happiness again.

Nancy recognizes that our grief will take as long as it takes and that what we really need is companioning rather than implicit or explicit messages about putting our grief in a box, putting a lid on it and shelving it so we can join others in their world of happiness. These messages are well intentioned because our loved ones hate to see us hurt  - but they are not helpful.

We could all do worse than to listen to, and act on, Nancy's TED Talk advice on how to support someone who grieves:
So, the next time that you see someone who's entering that space of grief - it might be a family member, might be a friend, a coworker, just someone you recently met - don't hand them a box. Don't tell them to find closure. Meet them where they're at. And they might be broken and down and beaten up.
She then goes down on one knee on the stage and continues ...
Meet them where they're at. And while you're there, take a moment and look around, 'cause you might be surprised at the view you have when you're on your knees. And if you're the one broken, you might  be surprised at how comforting it can be to have someone just meet you where you're at, not to try and get you to stand before you're ready, not to try and take away your pain or explain it away. Just to be with you. And when you're ready, to give you a hand up, to take those steps ... 
You see it's not about closure. Healing? Yes. But that's different. 

Nancy's full talk, Beyond Closure, is well worth hearing. You can watch it on YouTube.

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