Monday, October 17, 2011

Good news about "closure"

The good news about "closure" is that a new book critically analyzes this concept that many of us hate. The new book is called, suitably, Closure. The subtitle tells us a lot: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us. The author, Nancy Berns, was on NPR this morning and she had a lot of good things to say. A caller asked her for suggestions about what to say when well-meaning people speak of closure. She offered useful examples: "I am not interested in closure"; "I don't find the idea of closure helpful."

She emphasized the importance of longstanding family tradition and familiar rituals. Those of us who have been privileged to preside at the service for The Burial of the Dead can add volumes to that. When the NPR interviewer interjected, "People can create their own rituals," Nancy Bern was having none of it. She stated firmly that the rituals have to be in place already, with the weight of tradition behind them, long before the loss takes place. She emphasized the comfort that mourners can take from knowing exactly what to do and what to expect. (This should be a reminder to all of us to have our funeral plans ready and filed at our parish churches.) What she did not say, which we as Christians must say, is that "we do not sorrow as others do" (I Thessalonians) because the Lord Jesus Christ has gone before us into death, has emerged victorious over it, and will bring his faithful people through death into his eternal presence. The service is a witness to the Resurrection, not the "celebration of the life of..."

Closure is a pernicious concept. It is true that grief lessens over time, and certain steps can be taken to channel grief, but people have not been helped by the pressure put upon them to achieve closure. We can be thankful that this book has appeared to help us to understand grief better and to allow the bereaved to mourn in a way that helps them to cope, so that we do not push them into premature resolution in a way that makes them feel worse while making us feel better.

P.S. If you order this book, get the right one. There is another very different book called Closure which is about divorce.