Dedicated to Understanding Grief

Howard Lunche, MSW, LCSW

MOURNING - Closure & Other Mystifying Words

Closure, letting go, saying goodbye, what do these mean? Well meaning people offer these words during our grieving. Whether with compassion, out of frustration, or being matter-of-fact, 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, and lacking substance. What does it mean to say goodbye, let go, and get closure, and how do we do this?


Many of us experience confusion and anger when told we need to get closure regarding the loss of a person. Usually it is not clear exactly what closure is. Often we don't know what is required 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?


Suggestions to say goodbyelet go, get closure and accept the death have become cliché. Too often, the intent is to let us know it is time to act as if you are unaffected by the loss, and to move on with your life. The meaning 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 she or he 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 being "OK" with the death and loss. They are the painful, often long, process of acknowledging the fact of the death, and the impact it has on us. They are an acceptance of the loss by taking it into our heart, mind and consciousness in a way that becomes meaningful to our ongoing existence. They are a process and method of 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 of life without the deceased. 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.


Coming to a time when the loss is not a primary determinant of our daily life is the result of the healthy progression of grieving 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.

Mourning | Making Time to Mourn | "Closure" | Never Too Late | Owning Our Grief | More Reading