clo·sure | ˈklōZHər | noun
- an act or process of closing something, especially an institution, thoroughfare, or frontier, or of being closed: hospitals that face closure | road closures. • a thing that closes or seals something, such as a cap or zipper.
- (in a legislative assembly) a procedure for ending a debate and taking a vote; cloture: [as modifier] : a closure motion.
- a sense of resolution or conclusion at the end of an artistic work: “He brings modernistic closure to his narrative. • a feeling that an emotional or traumatic experience has been resolved: “I am desperately trying to reach closure but I don’t know how to do it without answers from him.”
Why is closure so important to us after a loss – a breakup/divorce, the death of a loved one, being fired from a job…?
Our brains want questions answered and solutions to mysteries. Loose ends and uncertainty are uncomfortable and disorienting. They also keep us looking back instead of moving forward. We are creatures who prefer resolution.
The term “closure” is so over-used now that people roll their eyes and laugh when they hear that someone “wants closure,” because (1) it’s become a thing people say without truly understanding its meaning, and (2) in some cases it feels so unachievable.
I have said this before, but it bears repeating: the bulk of suffering that occurs in grief is wrestling with the things that weren’t said, the things that weren’t done, or the things we said and did that we wish we could take back.
When it comes to having lost someone to death, it’s difficult to correct that (although surprisingly, not impossible!). In the event of a breakup or divorce, the other person you are wanting closure with may still be alive, but doesn’t want to have anything to do with you (or vice versa).
In either case, there’s unfinished business which can fester and rear its ugly head in future interactions and relationships. Best to leave that shit behind! But how?
Letter-writing is often suggested as a way to “resolve” some of this unfinished business, to clear one’s heart and head of undelivered communication and unresolved emotion. Some find this helpful by itself. Just writing. Then crumpling it up and burning it.
But some find this misses the mark because the “delivery” piece is missing. For this group, I recommend reading the letter out loud to a living, breathing “proxy” – someone who can “stand in” for the intended recipient (whether the intended recipient is alive or dead), and (1) listen without judgment or criticism and (2) with absolute compassion for you. (This is one of the ways that I work with clients who are seeking grief recovery.)
So, for instance, when my youngest sister died a little over a year ago, I wrote her a letter, saying all the things I wished I’d said before she died. What I appreciated about her and how she affected my life; asking her for forgiveness for the things I did or didn’t do that may have hurt her; forgiving her for the times I felt she fell short. I read this letter out loud to someone who did not know my sister, but knew me and wanted to give me the experience of being seen and heard both in my grief and also in my celebration of my sister. It was a transformational experience. And I felt a little sliver of peace in my soul afterwards, that hadn’t been there. It settled something inside of me.
Never, ever, ever deliver these letters to the intended recipient (if the person is still alive). This can cause greater harm than good. You cannot control how the recipient will react, and may simply create more drama and bad feelings. Find a worthy proxy to read it to.
Even though “closure” is an overused term, there are great benefits to resolving what feels unfinished. Don’t allow the criticism around this word, “closure,” to prevent you from achieving peace in the face of loss.