Rethinking “Closure”

Closure is typically a contentious and even hurtful term, for bereaved people. It strongly suggests that we must put our grief and our love for the person or people who died, behind us. It also suggests that in building a new life (or a “new normal”) we need to leave our loved ones behind, rather than take their legacy with us. 

In 2019, as part of TCFV’s Topics Around Grief program, a group of fifteen people, made up of bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents, came together to discuss this topic and think about closure in a way that assists us rather than aggrieves us. 

Before we commenced our discussion, we watched a TED Talk, Beyond Closure by Nancy Berns, found at Youtube: 

We all found this a very encouraging piece and it led naturally into our discussion.  

Firstly, we discussed: what do we think other people mean when they use the term closure? 

These were our thoughts: 

  • You’re over it – they measure this in time (and if you’re not talking about your loved one, they assume there is closure) 
  • Confuse grieving with closure e.g.  with a missing person, you might find closure when the body is discovered, but that closure is not the end of grief – grief comes later… 
  • It’s how they rationalise the passing of a person who, for instance, had an illness. But that’s not closure – we still grieve. The loss of a person is always there 
  • We grieve because we love and we don’t need closure to heal 
  • The term is often mentioned in media platforms (news, current affairs), particularly in terms of criminal sentencing (e.g. “The family has now found closure”) 
  • We don’t know what they mean, but certainly it’s the way in which it is used that impacts us. It shuts us down 
  • Although it might be used in good intention (seeking to comfort people), it can sound disrespectful to some people because it assumes an ending to the pain surrounding a loved one’s (or loved ones) death 
  • The term “closure” is emblematic of a solutions-focused society 


Secondly, we discussed: how do we relate to the term “closure”? 

  • Generalised word: “people don’t know how to relate to you and use this word without feeling or meaning. It’s a “non” word to us” 
  • Shows a lack of understanding and empathy 
  • Word that creates anger, shows avoidance of the issue 
  • We need to demystify and give it deeper meaning: empower the word. We want to give closure a new meaning to give us new meaning which is individualised for each of us 
  • Angry – some never have any sense of closure 
  • People assume that you have closure over your loved one’s passing because they do, so they don’t mention your loved one 
  • I don’t relate to this word 
  • “I feel its misused, therefore I don’t associate with it much” 
  • It’s counter-productive; it leaves people feeling ineffective and as though they’ve failed because they can’t achieve “closure” 
  • The desire for “closure” only complicates people’s grief 
  • There’s no such thing as “closure” – grief is a process of ongoing understanding 
  • I can’t associate it with death and the grieving process 
  • Closure is an irrelevant word. Grief has no end point 
  • The littlest thing can trigger 
  • Doesn’t take much to open the wound 
  • Closure doesn’t fit with grief. Grief always exists even if it changes over time 
  • Closure doesn’t fit on an emotional level. Emotions can often be unpredictable 
  • Acceptance might be a better word than closure because it doesn’t deny that our deceased loved ones still have an important place in our lives. 
  • It feels more like survival to me: it isn’t a journey to find closure, but a journey where you learn how to live alongside your grief to survive 
  • Grief is intangible and unpredictable, so closure is too hasty  

Finally, we discussed why we found the TED Talk by Nancy Berns so encouraging. 

These were the main points we identified: 

  • Joy and grief go together 
  • You can heal without closure (heal = reach an improved place of emotional, physical and spiritual functioning) 
  • “It was great to hear somebody say you don’t need closure, that we don’t need to put a lid on our grief” 
  • Reclaiming the word “closure”: grief is not in a box, you can’t compartmentalise it. It is with you. 
  • Grief is constant thinking, rethinking and contemplation  
  • Re: cultural education, we need to do something at primary and secondary schools that challenges people to think of grief as ongoing, rather than finite 
  • Don’t direct bereaved people to “where they should be in their grief”; rather ask them about their loved one