There Is No Closure

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.

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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.


Where There’s a Will. . .There Are Relieved Relatives

Some months ago, I made a new will. The old one got left behind in the files of an attorney who died. His will stipulated that his office be packed up and closed, but not that his former clients know how to get their documents back. Put me in doubt about his ability to write a good will.

Old New England tombstones covered a lot of worry.

I’m not planning on dying anytime soon, which makes this the excellent time to write a will. On the other hand, none of us came to stay, so I might as well decide what I want to happen when I die. Note that I said “die” not pass away, pass on, pass, go Home, or other euphemisms. My body will die off. I don’t have a problem with that.

I am actually not afraid of death. I am terrified of becoming feeble and being at the mercy of medical care that is not aligned at all with the natural state of death. My insurance company decides who gets the transplants and who doesn’t, who lives and who dies. Oddly enough, the same company that doesn’t want to help you live well doesn’t want you to die, either.

So I created a document that spells out the conditions under which I want to be allowed to die. At some point, not determined by age alone, my body will reach the tipping point of interconnected biological collapse. Nature designs us to disintegrate, and I would like to have that happen without violent, invasive procedures performed by people who are hired not to think but to act, and in their lawyer’s best behalf, not mine. I want someone to make the same merciful decisions I made for a number of cats and dogs in my care.

My mother chose the path of natural death and it was one of the few things we agreed on. Well into her 90s, her mind gone and her body failing, those wishes were ignored. She had a Do Not Resuscitate Order which was ignored half a dozen times. By the time she was allowed to die, she had had her ribs broken from EMTs who didn’t check for med-alert bracelets. They thought of themselves as heroes. I did not.

My will covers what I want to happen to my body when it’s dead. (I’ve never been a fan of formaldehyde, and if people knew that embalming includes sewing your mouth shut through your nose and placing your organs in a plastic bag at your feet, they may choose a way to ensure that dust-to-dust actually happens.

Most of all, writing a will made me aware that I have work to do. Right now. I am not afraid to die, but I am afraid of not living fully. I don’t have a bucket list–it seems like a sad list of odd self-indulgence mixed with a weird competitive spirit of end of life achievement. I’m sticking to my to-do list. There are more interesting things I still have to do.

–Quinn McDonald plans on a few more accomplishments before she dies.

Goodbye, Martha

She was beyond old, and a little deaf. She had grown tired of the cold in Illinois and come to Arizona to warm up. She was a night owl, I could hear her TV when I walked past her apartment on the way to the laundry room.

One day, hearing the radio alarm on when I passed her apartment, I wondered why the alarm was ringing in the middle of the afternoon. I picked up my mail at the communal boxes, and heard the alarm on my way back. I knocked on her door. Nothing. I knocked harder. She came to the door, and looked at me smiling.
“It’s good to have youngsters in this place,” she said. I smiled back, it’s been many years since I could have been a youngster, but to her, I was.
“Your radio alarm is ringing,” I said, “so I came to check on you.”
“It is?” she said, “Well, I wonder what it wants.”
I turned it off for her, and chatted for a few minutes.

canning jarShe asked about the canning jar that sits by the bougainvillea shrubs during the daytime. I explained that it contained a solar battery that charged in the sun, then the jar glowed at night, and I used it to cheer me up in the dark.
“We all need one of those,” she said, “Something that soaks up sun in the day.”
In March, she began to make plans to return to the East.
“I can’t manage by myself anymore,” she said, “so I’m going back to the cold.”
She gave me her ironing board and iron, and I planned on giving her the canning jar, so she could take some Arizona sunshine back with her.
Yesterday, she sat down in her apartment and died of an aneurism. She won’t have to go back to the cold. She won’t have to endure the broiler-heat of July here. I hope that wherever she goes, her generous and cheerful spirit will be happy, and that she will have a bit of Light to enjoy.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She lives in Mesa, AZ. See her work at (c) Quinn McDonald, 2008 All rights reserved.