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Home > Coping with Loss

Sorrow and Closure
by Sherry Russell

As we say goodbye to the Space Shuttle Columbia heroes, I feel such sadness and emptiness.  Is saying a ceremonious "good-bye" an act of closure?  Is there really anything as closure in grief?  If so, where are the steps to finding it?  Some people trace the rise of the term closure to the popular Gestalt psychology in the 1960s and 70s.  Gestalt psychology encouraged people to find a sense of completeness in their lives.  Some credit for the use of the term goes to the stages of grief in which "acceptance" of loss is said to be the final stage bringing an end to the grief work.

If we were to have closure, would it be with the external grief, the internal grief or both?  External grief being caused by the loss of a loved one is like guileful venom invading the body and mind.  Internal grief is having the venom invade your spiritual soul.

Closure is supposed to be a finalization.  It is supposed to tie up all the loose ends neatly and orderly, making some kind of sense out of what has happened.  Where did it ever become acceptable to say grief had a "closure"?  To accept this would mean there is a limit to the time needed for grieving.   I remember through many of our tragedies hearing all about how families would get "closure" when certain things would eventually take place. I can't except closure as an option to ending grief.  Grief isn't a contained element.  It shifts and changes constantly. One does not get over their grief.  Instead, a way is found to interlace the way life was with the way life has become to make a new reality.  A new reality filled with chosen memories of a loved one while going on with life. 

Who would really want closure?  If we were to accept closure as a part of grief, would that mean an end to memories and feelings?  Would it mean that we agree they are gone forever rather than keeping them alive through memories?  I have yet to hear a grieving person tell me they could finalize their grief because the person responsible for the death had been caught or the cause of an accident had been understood.  Many times they thought it would bring an end to the pain but in reality it did not. 

Grief makes people feel alone.  They long for the physical presence of their loved one.  Grief makes people feel abandoned and full of emptiness.  Grief makes people feel like they are on display.  Other people zoom in on a grieving person watching every reaction.  Grief makes people long for the way life used to be.  A grieving person yearns to feel  "normal" – the way it was – just one more day.  Grief is confusing.  A grieving person is conflicted with the difference between remembering their loved one and identifying with their pain.  Many grieving people feel guilty for laughing for fear it may look as if the pain has lifted. Some grieving people will actually develop a relationship with their pain.  They make a connection between the pain and keeping their loved one's memory alive.  At some point they learn that pain doesn't equal love and love doesn't equal pain.  Grief becomes absorbed into a grieving person's day.  Every day this person will wake up to live with the loss.  At some point they will decide to remember the entire relationship rather than the death.  A new reality must be created.  A reality that focuses on future goals and responsibilities to other family members and friends.  A reality where their loved one lives in their hearts and dreams but not in their physical world.   There isn't a "finish line" to cross.  It is never finished.  It only changes.

Grief can be paralyzing.  Some find grief a roadblock to reaching further potential in life but for many, grief teaches us to live life to the fullest.  To be non-judgmental of others, to live fearlessly and more lovingly toward one another.  If closure were possible we wouldn't learn the lessons grief teaches.  We wouldn't learn that healing comes when we feel for another's  pain.   We wouldn't learn to live in the moment and honor the time we have with loved ones and friends every day.  Grief is fiercely individual and acutely private.

Now is a time to allow the families from the Space Shuttle Columbia to be left alone to mourn in the care and understanding of those that love them.  We know today is the beginning of their grief.  All we can do is continue to offer comfort, resources, and understanding to help strengthen them in their time of need.

Please visit our Columbia Space Shuttle Tragedy discussion board to reflect upon, and discuss the Columbia Space Shuttle tragedy.

Sherry Russell is a Grief Management Specialist, researcher and author of Conquering the Mysteries and Lies of Grief. Sherry has worked over the last twenty years with thousands of people in the throes of grief and has originated a series of Grief Workshops. She is an active volunteer with a local hospital and bereavement camp for kids. She is currently working on her next book for children titled The Life Adventures of Baby Boo and Zelda Lou. She believes in strong family ties, a good tennis match, volunteering and that all animals should be rescued and showered with love.

Last modified: February 4, 2003

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