Closure…It’s Not What You Think It Is

Clo·sure Webster’s dictionary defines closure as : an often comforting or satisfying sense of finality <victims needing closure>; also : something (as a satisfying ending) that provides such a sense. Dictionary.com describes it as a bringing to an end; conclusion. But I call bullshit! This has not been my experience. When you lose someone you love; due to death, divorce, a break up, there’s nothing satisfying about it. And there’s certainly no conclusion. Maybe the hope of getting closure someday keeps us going when we might otherwise give up. I suppose that’s a good thing. But I don’t think closure exists…at least not the way most of us look at it.

I’ve been thinking about closure alot these last months. Ever since the man I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with walked away and my heart was broken beyond words. The ‘solution’ I am often presented with is closure. Well-meaning friends and family members often say, “You just need closure.” Or, they’ll tell me something negative about him saying, “Maybe this will help you get closure.” Apparently, no matter what the circumstance or how deep the pain, all you need to do is get closure and that matter will be behind you forever. They make it sound so easy. It’s not.

Most days come and go without tears, but not without thoughts of him. I get up, I go to work, I live my life. But then something out of the blue sparks a memory. I hear a song, or a line in a movie and the pain comes flooding back. Before I know it I am consumed by the longing to see him again, to hear his voice, to touch his sweet face. Often those journeys into darkness are completely unexpected. The other day I picked up a book off my shelf thinking I’d sit down and read for a while. Inside the front cover was a folded piece of paper. I opened to it find a print out of an email from him professing he would love and adore me forever. He didn’t. And just reading those words all these months later brought back the pain of him leaving as if it were yesterday.

There are also times when it’s a funny memory. I was at the grocery store recently and suddenly felt the urge to start drumming. You can imagine my confusion since I am not, nor have I ever been, a drummer. It took a minute, but then I realized the song playing ovehead was also on the video game Rock Band. We used to play that game until the wee hours of the morning. We had our own ‘band’ and we were on ‘tour’. He was the guitarist, of course, and I was the drummer. I wasn’t very good at it, but we had alot fun! It was our thing…something we did together nearly every time I visited. I laughed out loud in the aisle when it hit me.

And then there are the times when I wonder if the Universe is messing with me. Has that ever happened to you? I was driving through Eatonville the other day. This is the town where we met…were we went to high school together. I have to drive through town on my way to my parent’s house. He was already on my mind as he often is when I drive past the high school. As I was sitting at the four-way stop in the middle of town, I looked up and realized the car in front of me had Virginia license plates. That is where he lives and where I was going to move. Virginia is where we were going to build a life together. I just looked up to the sky and sighed. Really? There are 49 other states; why Virginia plates? What does that mean? Or is it just a random coincidence? I still don’t know what it means, but don’t believe in coincidences.

To be honest I was starting to think something was wrong with me that I couldn’t get to that ever-illusive state of closure. I felt like people wanted me to get over it already and move on. Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough. Then my mom loaned me Jerry Sittser’s book, “A Grace Disguised.” It’s the story of a man who lost his mother, his wife, and his daughter in one fateful car crash. He talks about loss in such an honest, real way. And reading his story reminded me that while my life goes on, and so does yours, it will never be the same. You can’t go back. Losing someone you love leaves a hole in your heart that nothing else can fill. That’s not to say you won’t be happy again. But you’ll never stop missing them; they will always be a part of you.

I have to admit I still get angry sometimes when people tell me I need closure. As if that’s the magic pill that will make my heart stop hurting; the memories stop flooding back at the slightest provocation; the longing to see him again fade away. I just don’t think closure is the right word. I think the word we’re looking for is acceptance. You can accept the fact your loved one is gone. But that doesn’t mean you forget them. And I don’t think you should. The memories will always be there; some sad, some happy, some just downright weird. But I think acceptance brings peace…a little at a time.

So here’s my advice on loss. You can take it or leave it. It’s your choice. Let yourself feel the pain. Remember that person as often as you want and cry or smile or both. Don’t fight those feelings because you think you shouldn’t have them. This is not about wallowing or feeling sorry for yourself; though you may feel that way at times. This is about being real. The experiences of your life are as much a part of you as your fingers and toes. The pain will come and go. There is no closure; no magic moment; no satisfy ending; no conclusion. The person you love will always be with you; in your thoughts, your mind, your heart. Life is a story that goes on and on. And they will always be a part of it.

“Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.” ~Frederick Buechner

A Life Well Lived; Knowing What Matters

Grandma and me - July 2011

Recently life was put in perspective for me. Sometimes I need that smack upside my head to remind me of what’s really important. I touched on this in my last post. How I go along from day to day rushing here, doing that. Not enjoying life, but not stopping to ask myself if this is really how I want things to go down. It’s like I’m on a carnival ride after I’ve had too much cotton candy and funnel cake. I feel like I could puke, but the ride just won’t stop.

I don’t remember the last time I saw my paternal grandmother. If I had to guess I’d say it’s been several years at least. I was out of town for her 90th birthday almost two years ago. I called her and she assured me she was going to make it to 100 so I didn’t feel any real urgency to make time for her. And even though I’ve been to my parent’s house, which is the property right next to my grandma’s, I haven’t taken the time or made the effort to see her. I didn’t really think much about it.

Sure, I’ve spoken to her on the phone; on her birthday and mine. I’ve sent her cards on Mother’s Day, Easter, Christmas. Sent her pictures of my kids. But I haven’t made the time to sit with her, to hold her hand, to show her I love her. Time is a precious gift I’ve given far too little of. In the last few years I’ve told myself I’m too busy. My reasons, also known as excuses, are numerous and varied. I have too much to do, it’s such a long drive, it will be uncomfortable, what will we talk about? When I read those words now, they sound ridiculous, but they seemed perfectly reasonable at the time.

Then my sister mentioned my grandma hadn’t been well; that she’d been hospitalized a couple times. For what, I’m not sure. Old people stuff, I guess. So I thought it was probably a good idea to go see her when I got a message from my aunt; my dad’s sister. It’s normally hard for me to take her too seriously. She’s always been a little on the ‘chicken little, the sky is falling’ side. I’m guessing she made the phone call because she was mad at my parents for not telling us kids that grandma had one foot in the grave. She likes to be the bearer of bad news. The message actually said if I couldn’t make it to see her, there would be a funeral. Like I want to see her at her funeral? Not so much!

Since I know my aunt tends to be overly dramatic, I checked with my mom to get the scoop. And sure enough, my grandmother had been to the hospital. No diagnosis…just that she was getting old and her body was wearing out. And for the first time, I realized my time with her was limited. So I decided to make the loooooooooooong drive when I had toooooooooooo much to do (did I seriously buy that crap in the past?) so I could see my grandma. My excuses didn’t hold much water anymore.

She was taking a nap so her caregiver, Annamae, had to wake her up, but this is the best part. Once she could focus her eyes and realize who I was (bear in mind it had been a while since she’d me and she wasn’t expecting me) she got the sweetest look on her face. You know that look little kids get when you surprise them with something totally unexpected? That was the look. Her eyes got big and she took in a breath of surprise. Then said my name like she could hardly believe it was me. I can still see that moment in my mind and it’s something I’ll always treasure. Those are the times in life you wish you could bottle up and keep forever. It still makes me tear up when I think about it.

We sat with my mom and Annamae and talked and joked. My grandma still has a great sense of humor. She asked about my kids and when I looked on the wall behind her bed, there was the last picture of them I had sent her. She remembers everything! We watched the hummingbirds in the flowers outside her window. She looked a little sad when she talked about not being able to get outside and keep the yard up. Most of us complain about doing yardwork…myself included. But it’s one of the things she misses.

She said she’s had a great life and reminded me she still plans to make it to 100. She joked about not being a spring chicken anymore and we all laughed about that. She told me how lucky she is to have such a loving family. And even though my dad just turned 70, she still calls him Billy. I guess your child is your child no matter how old they get. She’s led a simple, yet full life. Not punctuated by successes and achievements. She has never had very much in the way of material possessions. She doesn’t value the things we all seem to be striving for. She knows what really matters. I guess you don’t get to be 91 without learning a thing or two about life.

But the most poignant moment was when she leaned over, held my hand and said, “Life goes by so fast.” I’m fairly certain she did not expect these last 90 plus years to fly by the way they have. I am in shock at how fast the last 44 have gone for me. And while I’d love to say I’ve completely changed and now only spend my time on things that have great meaning for me, that would not be true. But I do notice, when I catch myself rushing and trying to accomplish more in less time and sacrificing time with those I love, I hear her voice in my head saying, “life goes by so fast.” And then I stop and breath and try to focus on what matters.

Because at some point in the future, probably in the blink of an eye, I’m going to be at the end of the road. I don’t want to look back and wish I’d done it differently. I try to remind myself everything that needs to get done, gets done. And the other stuff doesn’t really matter. A life well lived comes in doing it my own way…whatever that looks like for me. Whatever that looks like for you. So when the shoulds, the musts and the have to’s are banging at your door, try to remember what my grandma said. It all goes by so fast. And you get to decide what matters.