Closure, letting go, saying goodbye, what do these mean? Many well meaning people offer these words during our plight with grief. Whether delivered with a tone of compassion, frustration, or matter-of-factness, there is an assumption that getting closure is the obvious and necessary thing for us to do. Though sincere, this advice is often poorly timed, unrealistic in its intent, and lacking substance. What does it mean to say goodbye, let go, get closure, and accept the death, and how do we do this?
Many of us experience confusion and anger when told we need to get closure with respect to the death and loss we have suffered. Usually it is not clear exactly what closure is. Often we are at a loss as to what is required of us to make this closure come about. What will it feel like, how will we know we have achieved it, how will we be different, and why is it so important?
Unfortunately, suggestions for us to say goodbye to, and let go of, the one who has died seem all to familiar. Advisories about getting closure and accepting the death also have an uncomfortably familiar feel to them. These terms have become cliché in their use. As a result, what is communicated loud and clear is the old familiar societal value; it’s time for you to act as if you are unaffected by the death and your grief, and move on with your life. The true meaning and process of saying goodbye and finding closure has been reduced to the painful and unhealthy task of disavowing our connection to the deceased, and disowning our grief.
Saying goodbye, letting go, getting closure, and accepting the death are all useful concepts if we understand what they mean, and we are realistic about how they come about. First, we must understand that they have nothing to do with forgetting the deceased, and acting as if they never existed. Grieving is about remembering, not forgetting. Secondly, we must realize that saying goodbye and letting go are processes not events. Getting closure and accepting the death are not about this being an experience that is closed down, and the death being something that is now OK. They are about the painful, often long, process of acknowledging the truth of the death, and the impact it has on us. They are about coming to grips with the loss that is ours by taking it into our hearts and minds and consciousness in a way that becomes meaningful to our ongoing existence. They are about finding a way to regain our equilibrium given the reality of the death, and how our life is changed and changing.
We may say goodbye to the one who has died many times over as we mourn. It never implies we will cease to remember or think about him or her. We will go through the painful process of letting go over and over again as our wish for the death not to be true collides with the reality that it is, and we are gradually more able to tolerate the truth. As our mourning proceeds, what we come to accept is the reality and finality of the death, and the implications this has for our life. What has come to a close is the presence of the one who has died in our life as we continue live.
Allowing for the healthy unfolding of our grief, and engaging in the healthy process of mourning, we ultimately come to a time of closure with our period of bereavement. We come to accept the new reality. We find some peace with what is, rather than being in anguish about what isn’t. We realize we will not forget the deceased, nor ignore the significance of having shared life with him or her. We realize there is no betrayal, disloyalty, or guilt in allowing our grief to diminish and bringing our mourning to a close.
Rediscovering and engaging in a life not dominated by grief is the natural outgrowth of the healthy progression of grief and mourning. Saying goodbye, letting go, getting closure, and accepting the death are all part of this arduous, and ultimately, rewarding process.
Read more about Mourning on the following pages.