From The Boston Globe:
When people talk about overcoming tragedy and loss these days, it’s hard to avoid the word “closure.” Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a national catastrophe, or just an argument with a friend, closure is supposed to be what we need to heal and get on with our lives. It’s easy to see the appeal of the idea that we can put a definitive end to our suffering or grief and start a new chapter of life without sorrow, guilt, or anger. The term originates in Gestalt psychology, but the popular notion of closure emerged through the victims’ rights, pop psychology, and self-help movements of recent decades. By the 1990s, the concept had become a cultural commonplace, and today is cited in industries from marketing to politics. In May, when President Obama visited the World Trade Center site after Osama bin Laden’s death, the White House press secretary explained the visit as “an effort to perhaps help New Yorkers and Americans everywhere to achieve a sense of closure.”
Such references make psychological closure seem like a fact of life. But according to a new book, closure is something else: a myth. Closure, says sociologist Nancy Berns, simply doesn’t exist. While grief can diminish over time, there is no clear process that brings it to an end – and no reason that achieving this finality should be our goal. In “Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us,” Berns draws on scholarly publications and popular media to trace why closure became a staple of our discourse and how it affects us. In fact, while closure is widely considered possible, desirable, and important, she argues, it is not necessarily any of these things. Our reliance on the concept may even do us a disservice. Not only does closure mischaracterize how most people handle grief, but, she suggests, the pressure to achieve it might actually make loss more difficult.