The Myth of Closure

An interview with Nancy Berns, author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us. Berns argues that closure “simply doesn’t exist. While grief can diminish over time, there is no clear process that brings it to an end – and no reason that achieving this finality should be our goal.

People are told they need closure whether we’re talking about bad relationships or terrorist attacks, so it’s a wide variety of issues. We also see closure become an essential part of sales talks, whether it’s in funeral, grief, or relationship advice industries, as well as a political argument for issues ranging from the death penalty to memorials … .Closure really has saturated our popular culture … because it’s an effective way to sell ideas and to sell politics and products. As a result, people have come to believe that they do need closure.


Two articles on grief and mourning

From Slate, a report on a survey about “what grief is really like.” In this report, a discussion of what grievers wanted from friends and acquaintances:

Asked what would have helped them with their grief, the survey-takers talked again and again about acknowledgement of their grief. They wanted recognition of their loss and its uniqueness; they wanted help with practical matters; they wanted active emotional support. What they didn’t want was to be offered false comfort in the form of empty platitudes. Acknowledgement, love, a receptive ear, help with the cooking, company—these were the basic supports that mourning rituals once provided; even if we’ve never experienced a loss ourselves, we know from literature and history that people require them. Yet as American culture has become divorced from death and dying, we no longer know how to address the most rudimentary aspects of another’s loss—what to say, when to say it, how to say it. Disconcerted by discomfort, friends or colleagues are all too likely to disappear or turn the conversation to small talk in the aftermath of a loss, not knowing what to say. Our survey-takers reported wanting to grieve communally and yearning to find ways to relate to those around them.

Among other things, the article stressed the meaninglessness of platitudes and the importance of rituals.

An earlier article on the theme.

From Salon, Sheila Trask writes about the lengthy grieving process after three deaths in her family.