No Such Place as Closure…Only Answers

In the weeks that have passed since MH370 disappeared, I have repeatedly heard friends, family, and news reporters talk about how important it is to find the aircraft so that families can finally have closure.  While I know that solving the mystery of what happened to the aircraft, its passengers, and crew is what most people mean when they talk about closure, I am always bothered by the confusion around that word.

One of the most difficult parts of grieving the death of a loved one has to do with finding a place for them in our life on earth.  During the time that we are trying to figure out how to go on with our life, while holding on to the deceased in whatever way we can, we often find that others are ready for us to move on before we are.  Words like “closure” cause fear and anxiety for many of us. On some unconscious level it suggests we must move on as though they never existed.

I was so disturbed by references to “finding closure,” “getting on with my life,” and other such expressions that I wrote a little book of free verse called When Someone You Love is Grieving during the first year after my fiancé was killed in Delta Flight 191 in 1985.  It was my way of expressing how misunderstood I felt.  Few grieving people have the energy to speak up for themselves, and some are not aware of what specifically offends them.  But they/we can feel the pain and disconnection when the wrong thing is said—regardless of the intent.

There are some experiences in life for which closure is a very appropriate word, but I never met a survivor who truly wanted to feel closed off from their deceased.  Over time, most of us figure out that it is the memories we shared that never leave us and that no one can take from us. And most survivors eventually figure out how to include the deceased in their current life.

I encourage everyone who has an opportunity to explain to those who talk about closure in the context of MH370 to suggest that they substitute the word “answers” for “closure.” There are many rituals associated with tragedies like MH370 such as site visits, receiving personal belongings, and a full investigation that we all hope will happen for these families and the airline, someday.  All of these rituals will help the survivors integrate the experience of the tragedy into their lives, and these events will bring connection to othersand play a major role in healing.  But these rituals were never intended to bring closure or disconnection from our deceased loved ones.