The teary-eyed woman on the news with the microphone thrust in front of her said, “I just want to get closure on my daughter’s murder.” The reporter nodded solemnly, turned to the camera and intoned, “With the funeral tomorrow, the family hopes to move on.” Being farther down life’s road than the reporter, I ‘d like to paint a signpost: There is no closure. Your life will become different.
As a culture, Americans are big on closure.
Something awful happens to us, and we look for a ritual that allows us to tie it up neatly, claim we are “just fine,” and go back to work.
We are afraid of the word Death, we want to call it something softer, soft enough to stuff away and hide. We talk about “final reward” and “called home,” “passing on” and “passing over,” or simply “passing,” which, because I live in the land of fast drivers, I always imagine as a soul flashing its headlights and pulling into the left lane and zipping ahead to heaven. None of that has the finality, the simple truth of not being here anymore, as death.
Last year, when Gary’s wife died, he asked me when he should stop wearing his wedding ring.
“When you are ready to take it off,” I replied.
Gary looked at me warily. “I thought you were a life coach. Well, you should know the rules.”
Life doesn’t come with instructions for grief. We have to write our own. And there is no closure, no permission that mourning is over and we can go back to our regular lives. We don’t have regular lives anymore. After death, life changes.
When we lose someone we love, when a medical problem blows up our routine, lives do not get glued back together
Instead, there’s a different life. And we become a different person by coping with it. Over time, we stitch together broken hearts, shattered expectations, overturned plans, and figure out how to proceed. And the change forges for us a new heart and a new spirit that we use to cope with our new life.
As almost anyone who has lost a loved one or gone through a life-changing disease, friends pull away. In the beginning, we are showered with questions, with suggestions, with directions. And when we don’t respond as expected, our circle of friends backs away, leaving us alone, because death is scary. Because we don’t want to be around it. Because it might be catching.
Disaster brings a new character. We slowly quit crying so hard and so long. We fashion a new life. There is no closure. There is just courage to face another day until we get strong enough to recognize our new life. And then we live it, one day at a time, until we make a new role for ourselves.
Theodore Roethke had it right in The Waking, when he said,
This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.
–-Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who is stepping into a new life once again.