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A Loved One Dies—Is Closure Possible?

Bob Baugher, Ph.D.

Highline College

Closure. You hear that word a lot when it comes to grief.

Now the family can have closure because (choose one or more):

their loved one is: with God/in heaven/reincarnated/in a better place/not in pain

the body has been found

the funeral is over

the person has been buried or cremated

the person is at rest

the will has been read

the person responsible for the death has been found guilty

their grief is behind them

life goes on

Is closure what family and friends actually feel after the death of their beloved? In my years of work with bereaved folks, I rarely hear the word cross their lips. By contrast we do hear the media use that word. I have written elsewhere about the media’s use of such terms.*

Let’s see if you have reached closure on any of the following aspects of your loved one’s life. Have you experienced closure on:

Wishing your loved one would return

Sadness you’ve been feeling about your loved one

Missing the presence of your loved one

Any guilt you felt about not doing or saying things while your loved one was alive

Any feelings of anger

Putting away the pictures and mementoes of your loved one

Distributing your loved one’s belongings

Walking out of your loved one’s room or home for the last time

Selling your loved one’s property

Look at the list to determine the ones in which you’ve experienced some closure. If there is even one in which you’ve not found closure, then no one can say to you, “We are sad about your loss, but at least you now have closure.” Think about it: you have hundreds of thousands of memories of your loved one. These memories demonstrate that you can never have total closure on this person’s life. Perhaps people have urged you to say “Good-bye;” but you just cannot bear to do it. It’s OK to never say good-bye. Your loved one has died and nothing will change that. This person was part of your life and nothing will ever take that away. You can never hug or touch this person again, but that doesn’t mean you would ever close the door on a life that you shared.

Yes, there may be parts of your loved one’s life where there is closure; but total closure? No. Most importantly, there is one area where there is absolutely no closure. It’s called love.

*See How long (according to the media) should grief last? (2001). Columbia Journalism Review, Vol. 39(6), p. 58.

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