Monday, December 5, 2011

Article: "Looking for closure in all the wrong places"

This article was in today's Globe & Mail -- timely, I thought, given the holiday season and the number of people out there for whom Christmas might not be particularly merry, for whatever reason(s) but who nevertheless are feeling the pressure to get with the program.

Of course, I dislike the whole concept of "closure" intensely -- I don't believe there's any such thing. One of my all-time favourite quotes, from Elizabeth McCracken's amazing stillbirth memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: "Closure is bullshit."

Here's an excerpt:

Of the many self-help platitudes invoked during a crisis, none has been more flogged in the past two decades than “closure.” No tragedy can be complete until the narrative has run its course, converting sadness and injustice into a three-act screenplay taught in a night school course: happiness, disaster, closure. It’s the ultimate celebrity-interview reveal: “I finally have closure,” Tamara Mellon, former head of Jimmy Choo, told Interview magazine about her troubled relationship with her mother. Online posters want Rihanna and Chris Brown to get it, and the editors of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills are scrambling to find some for Taylor Armstrong after her husband’s suicide.

When news is cast as entertainment, which it is in the 24-hour cable world, stories require endings. The meaning of closure is both mutable and vague – move along, finish up, put away your grief – which makes it highly utilitarian. A romantic breakup, a dead pet, a terrorist attack – closure is the great equalizing imperative, offered as cold comfort. There’s something profoundly attractive about closure: In chaos, it’s the one clear idea. Closure is something to do.

Yet closure isn’t a term used by many bereavement therapists. According to a new book, in fact, closure doesn’t even exist. In Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What it Costs Us, Drake University sociologist Nancy Berns writes, “Closure is not some naturally occurring emotion; it’s a made-up concept that tells us how we should deal with loss.” In other words, it’s a prescription that can’t be filled...

The truth is that grief is ongoing and laborious. Freud said that “mourning is work,” a thing to be wrestled. But it’s a valuable struggle; all kinds of truths arise from contemplation. What benefit is there to rush past injustices of the kind we’ve witnessed these past weeks? Who would be served by closing the door quickly and moving on at UC Davis, at Penn State?

Read more here. (I've put the book mentioned in the article on my "to shop for" list. Would you be surprised to learn that the author had a stillborn baby boy in 2001?)


  1. I love this. I totally agree - closure is bullshit. I cringe whenever people toss the term around casually these days.

  2. I always loved that quote from her book. Closure really is bullshit. Thanks for sharing the link, very good article.

  3. Oh my loribeth--this is too strange. I have been reading Nancy Bern's Closure The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us...I just bought it a couple of weeks ago. I think "closure" is a mirage, and that grief changes with time, but doesn't end. I also think that "closure" is sometimes sold as a quick-fix measure. By the way, the book is academic in nature but fascinating.

  4. I love that article. I always thought that closure was bullshit. I think the idea of "closure" makes other people feel better. They can then absolve themselves of the need to worry about us, or to think about what might have caused us grief. Because we've had "closure" or "we're over it."

  5. Loribeth, you post the best stuff here. I love coming over and seeing what you're reading/thinking. Thanks for giving us a heads up on an article well worth reading.

  6. I have mixed feelings about closure. I think in certain life events, you can get to another place that feels so much better than the place you were, well, it feels like closure. I think sometimes rape victims or incest victims can feel this when they get to confront the criminal or the something of that nature. Not that I know about those things. But, I did have an experience in high school that left its mark on me, and after of year of obsessing about it, somehow, I let it go. And, it did feel like closure, because it wasn't such a huge part of my life anymore.

    But this grief? I don't know, i frequently feel I am "taking too long" in it. Or that I still think about it too much, and I worry that I let it define me. But maybe that is the pressure I feel to "close" it. The pressure is definitely there and that is the problem I have with closure. It is often used to hurry someone, to make the people around the hurt person feel better. Abiding with someone in pain is not fun, and sadly, most people want you to be "normal" again.

    Thank you for telling about the book, I will definitely have to check it out. You always let us know about the most interesting things, Loribeth.

  7. Brilliant. Closure is definitely an unrealistic expectation and one that doesn't fit at all with my experience of grief and the it continually evolves and unfolds.

  8. Brilliant article and book. Closure IS bullshit. It's giving a placebo while saying out loud to the patient that it is a placebo and not a real medicine. What kind of closure can you, Loribeth, get after Katie? Wouldn't the closure that so many blab about feel like shutting the door to her? How can people expect you to do that? So you may not talk about her often now or weep her loss in front of others, but this does not mean you've got closure or that you moved on. She is still your child, even if she is no longer living.

    I am sorry for using you in particular as an example, and not a more general 'you' or 'one'. I have been reading your blog for a long time and never commented, because I never felt I had the proper words. But I really loved this post of yours and since I have promised myself to start commenting of the bligs I like, here I am.

    Closure is what other people want from the grieving persons, meaning they want to put a stop to them hearing about other's grief. Grief makes most people uncomfortable. Most people are shallow. But no one said that life is fair.

  9. I went back & read the comments on the article. It was hilarious/pathetic how many of them began arguing about the protesters cited as an example at the beginning of the article & didn't address the topic of closure at all. They missed the point entirely. I guess some people just like to make their point -- even if it's not THE point.

  10. I never really looked at it that way before. Still, I've known for a while that while some things can heal, there's always the tug of the scar every time you move. You know what I mean?

  11. Thanks for sharing this book...quite agree. Closure IS bullshit. As soon as I stopped trying to find closure, I was on my way to more peace (though NOT closure)'s a lifelong process and coming to terms with that is not fun!

    Have you read the book? What do you think? (Sorry if you've blogged on this already, I'm a little behind in my google reading!)


  12. Shlomit -- I am reading the book right now, & will definitely post a review when i'm done!