No, you’ll never get closure on life’s difficult issues. In fact, if by closure you mean erasing your past troubles from your mind, then you would miss out on important memories or life lessons that will make you a deeper and richer person.
I was shocked when I first faced this truth. After all, for most of my adult life I have been instructed that I needed to get closure on significant loss or rejection. How many times have we all been told that we have to “Get over it and move on?”
Let’s be clear on one thing: I am not opposed to “moving on” but the notion of removing the pain of loss is not only impossible, it is not healthy. In seminary, I attended a lecture where the speaker told us, “You are what you have been becoming!”
Thirty years later that thought continues to impact the way I think about my past. I am who I am today because of the lessons I learned from my failures and successes and my hurts and joys. Yes, I am who I have been becoming.
You are as well. And that can be a good thing. Somehow we seem to have concluded that pain and adversity should be avoided at all costs. Don’t believe it. “Adversity-avoidance” is one of the most harmful lies penetrating our culture today. And too often we place the notion of closure as a means of dealing with pain.
Instead of closure you might consider living in a state of ambiguity, where you accept the reality your loss, admit that it is part of what it means to be human, and then choose to live with it. You really have no other choice because no matter how hard you try, the pain of significant loss or rejection will always linger. And that’s okay. Oddly enough, it can be a good thing.
Loved ones die, often unexpectedly. Another colleague gets the promotion you deserved. Your spouse leaves. Your friend hurts you. It’s not fair. But life is not fair, is it? Rabbi Harold Kushner writes about these pains in his powerful book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
Or… what about the pain you DO deserve because you did something reckless? You get a DUI, or betray a loved one, or say something stupid to another person. OMG. The list is endless.
Is Closure Even Realistic
And guess what? YOU WILL NEVER GET CLOSURE from it. At first it haunts you, maybe for a day or maybe it lingers for years. Normally the pain will eventually dissipate, however there are tragic circumstances that feel as if they will never go away. The loss feels overwhelming as if it has totally taken control of your life.
My cousin was killed river rafting at 30 years old. His mother never fully recovered. Relatives used to say, “Oh Connie just needs to get over it.” But they never experienced the untimely loss of a child—one of life’s most unfair and miserable tragedies. So, in my opinion, my relatives just didn’t know what they were talking about.
So what are you to do with such loss? Closure is simply not an option. The freshness of the wound can continue a lifetime. Ironically, I might suggest that such memories can be reconciled by the ambiguous state of missing the lost one, while cherishing the memory and privilege of loving someone so deeply, remembering their goodness and love for you.
Regarding the pain you do deserve: I work regularly with people who have caused their own pain—drug addicts and alcoholics, many of whom have brought tragedy, bankruptcy, and brokenness to their families and to themselves personally.
These people never seek closure. Instead they accept responsibility for their actions and work hard on behavioral change. Such is the power of 12 Step Programs: acceptance of responsibility, deference to a Power greater than yourself, identification of severe personal defects, apologizing to those you hurt, and work with fellow supporters to help you manage your addictions. It can work!
How to Live Life with Severe Loss
I certainly do not have “answers” to these issues. Still, I can offer a few suggestions. First of all, forget closure… it’s bunk. Instead, seek acceptance, reconciliation, and learn to make pain and loss part of your own “life’s narrative,” the one that belongs only to you.
Options for you to consider:
- Seek support. Friends are great. Experts are better. And “fellow sufferers” are the best. No one understands your pain like others who have experienced the same thing. Personally, I can be an isolated introvert, but I know that I cannot manage pain alone. I need a community of people that truly understands my pain.
- Use the pain to strengthen your character and resilience. Just like a broken bone is stronger than before at the break point, you too can be stronger when you have reached your “break point.” Learn from it. Add it to your arsenal of wisdom that you have been collecting all your life.
- As you get stronger, actively seek to help others in the same condition. There is absolutely no better way to “move on” than by serving others in need. People who have been hurt the most and made the most mistakes are the best lovers and teachers.
- Finally, accept that life is difficult, often almost impossibly so! Then remember the number of overcomers that you know. Use them as a source of strength and encouragement.
Is an Unreasonable Myth
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