Is Closure Really Possible?

June 6th, 2011 § 9 comments

The rest of my family is coming back today. After a week in Jackson Hole, Clarke and Paige and Colin will return tonight, just in time for Colin’s 7th birthday tomorrow.

The refrigerator has been really empty this week. With just a 2-year old and me, it doesn’t take much to keep us fed. So I took the opportunity this morning to clean out the refrigerator and freezer– really clean them. Take everything out, throw away all the junk, the ice cream that now is just ice crystals. I tossed all of those “placeholders” that you never eat, they just take up room.

As I sprayed a wonderful new lemon verbena spray on the glass shelves, I start contemplating this week. The last seven days were my week to recover from surgery (an oophorectomy), to get stronger, to close out my year. I know I made the right decision not to join my family in Wyoming this year. It’s been a reflective time, a time for my soul to be quiet and heal. I think it’s done that a little. I think another week might help. I’ve loved my one-on-one time with Tristan; we have a nice little routine going, and I feel like he’s grown up this week.

But as the new year starts, of course, we are pushed to reflect on ourselves, to make ourselves better in the next 365 days. We reflexively reflect on whether we’ve kept any of those elusive resolutions from the previous year. December 31st is supposed to bring “closure.” In the arbitrary distinction between one year and the next (after all, why is there really a difference between the last day of 2008 and the first of 2009 any more so than any other passage of midnight on any other day of the year), we are pushed to wipe the slate clean and start anew. As I cleaned the house this week, purging old canned goods, papers, clothing, and sprucing up the house I found I was instinctively doing this: “Out with the old, in with the new.”

This annual rehabilitation, then, is supposed to be psychological and physical.
Most of our resolutions are about ways we want to be better, inside and out: concentrating on the new and gaining closure on the past.

One of my dearest friends wrote to me in an email last week, “And yet, you can no more gain ‘closure’ on life-altering events than you can erase moments from your memory.” I read that sentence many times. It is beautiful, and true.

I remember well when my friend Alex’s father died of cancer almost 10 years ago. She was so busy with all of the things that needed to be done, the arrangements that needed to be made, and taking care of her mother who needed constant attention and support. I remember wondering when she was going to grieve. I worried that his death, and his absence from her life, would fester and haunt her.

As I scrubbed the refrigerator shelves this morning I realized that you never grieve the way you think you should.
No one really just sits alone and thinks about the tragedies that befall them.
It’s too painful, too powerful to take that in as one big gulp.
Instead, what we do is weave it into the tapestry of our consciousness.
We make it part of our daily life, quiet, but present.
Maybe at this time of year we reflect more than usual, and maybe that’s why the holidays are painful as we take stock of what we’ve lost during the year and what we’ve gained.
Where that balance lands says a lot.

A year ago I thought surely 2008 would be better than 2007. It really didn’t turn out that way. But I am doggedly optimistic even when I’ve been been proven wrong so many times. I do not believe that there is a “justice meter” in the universe that is going to now dump things on someone else and leave me alone for a year. But maybe as my own tapestry of consciousness keeps getting woven, it will be stronger and more resilient to keep me going this year.

At least I’m starting with a clean refrigerator.

originally written January 2, 2009. Modified June 6, 2011

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§ 9 Responses to Is Closure Really Possible?"

  • Lindsey says:

    Such a salient reminder that the ways we grieve might surprise others – and ourselves. Thank you for this. xox

  • Cheryl says:

    Lisa, I am also a breast cancer survivor. This is beautifully written and very moving. Just curious – what made you revisit it and republish this piece? I feel as though there is much more to the story you haven’t said….I try to read your blog when I remember, but maybe I missed something? My motto is get well, be well, stay well! That’s my wish for you, too.

    • Cheryl, there are two reasons I republished this today. The first one is that in general I am bringing over posts that I really like from the old website before I take it down permanently. The archive is there but I have so many more readers now than when I first wrote this. This piece was one of the first 3 I ever wrote and I think only about ten people read it the first time!

      This week I saw a brand of soda that my mother-in-law used to buy. It jarred me; I hadn’t seen it in a long time. As I put some in my cart I realized that “closure” is a word we toss around so often, but it’s a goal that is impossible to attain. We can’t find closure, we only find a way to deal with the pain that survives. I still miss her so much.

      Thanks so much for reading (and you can subscribe by email if you want to get the posts regularly!)

  • Becky says:

    Yes Lisa… Yes.
    This is how I often feel. I hear people say, “move on”, “get on with it”, “act how you want to feel”. If that were possible, wouldn’t we all be acting like beloved superheros who can do no wrong?
    It’s hard to grieve. You want it to start and to end on cue and you don’t want it to bring up any other lingering issues — but… grieve does and acts as grieve wants to.
    THIS needs to be read and shared and talked about.

  • Dawn Waldron says:

    It’s strange. I feel I ‘ought’ to have achieved closure. My breast cancer was 14 years ago and my oophrectomy now 7. But I still grieve, and it still bubbles up at inappropriate times, and I still worry, and I still find myself being sad when I thought I would be happy. I know what you mean. It never hits you like you think it will. Thank you for sharing this.

  • rubybeets says:

    The other day I opened a jar of scented body lotion that someone had given me while I was in the hospital after my surgery and it all came back. Whew! I think that closure does not ever happen after huge tragic events. It all is just like a door being open, closed, or just ajar, and that door swings back and forth depending on all sorts of life’s circumstances. Sometimes a person can go for such long stretches that she may be fooled that closure has happened and then something swings that door wide open only to bring in huge painful memories.

  • Closure on just about anything, even a vacation in paradise, is hard to find. My grief continues to intensify, leaving me emotional and absolutely certain there is no justice meter… Not in this life, anyway.


  • JoanneFirth says:

    I’m glad you reposted this, I missed it the first time around. I understand completely about the brand of soda reminding you of your beloved mother-in-law. For that reason, along with anniversaries, etc., closure has been virtually impossible for me. You nailed it when you wrote that we weave it into our consciousness, I certainly agree. There are and always will be triggers to bring back the grief, time helps to encapsulate it. At least that is how it has worked for me. Closure, not really. Excellent post.

  • Thank you for such a thoughtful post. i am still taking in the depth of it, the thought of our grieving (or lack thereof), and even the thoughts about closure. I love the concept (strangely enough) of us weaving our tragedies back into the fabric of our lives. So true, whether we realize it or not, and how strong and powerful those weaved points are to those around us.

    It gives me hope when I am going through it, regardless of what “it” is. 🙂

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