CLOSURE in Bereavement: There is No Such Thing*, Rea L. Ginsberg, LCSW-C, ACSW, BCD

Monday, 10 Nov 2014 02:22



~Orchid in renewed growth – grace, strength, health, durability

Closure. What an enticing fantasy.  It would be so comforting to think that all the grief will stop some day soon.  Then life will proceed as before.  The pain will come to an end.  The hurt will be terminated, especially by the passing of time.

So it is said: “Time heals all wounds.” But it doesn’t.  Time is a neutral force.  It is perpetually available for our use.  How we use it makes all the difference.  Time does not conclude grief.  Time does not close the pain.  Would that wishing made it so.  It doesn’t.  An impossible dream.  To expect it is to be disappointed, further saddened by the failure of hope.  Then to feel isolated, abandoned, and defeated.  Broken.

To promise closure to a bereaved person is false and unkind. It causes agitation, anger, and loneliness.  The words produce a paradoxical effect: the survivor’s suffering is increased.  Instead of being uplifted by intended compassion, he feels misunderstood – a stranger in a strange land.

Closure is necessary for the dying. It is impossible, unrealistic and beyond all reason, for those who survive.  For the survivor, there is no such thing as closure.

Definitions clarify. Closure means the conclusion of grief.  It is the act of bringing grief to an end, a finish, a close.  It is the feeling of finality, a termination, a settlement.  It usually has a time frame.  However, it is the creation of our imagination, a wish fulfillment unfulfilled.  Dreaming doesn’t make it so.  Closure is a myth of the modern American death-denial syndrome.  It is a symptom of our death terror.  Grief does not close.

Instead, it transforms. In our minds, it transitions into a New World, a symphony of love and longing and renewal.  We gradually discover a new relationship with the lost loved one.  Death may end a life but it does not end a relationship.  It is a relationship on a different plane of existence, one that transcends the physical universe.  A different level of development.  And yes, it does continue to develop.  It is not closed.  It does not go away.  We grow into the future, the future of the past.

This time we know that the relationship is for keeps. It does not disappear.  It does not stop.  It does not cease to exist.  It will not die.  “Always” and “forever” are promises that we can now make in good faith.  In our memory, the relationship has an astonishing ability to survive.

What we cannot do alone, we can do together. We need others.  To be human is to seek community.  We need to talk and to be heard.  Learning how to manage, what to do, and how to become.  We look for understanding and affirmation, respect and a compassionate listening ear.  Listening is profoundly affirmative, healing, and helps to bring the survivor back into the world of the living.  That New World does not close off the survivor’s relationship to the lost loved one.  On the contrary, it embraces the dead especially as ongoing living history.

Grief does not close. Rather, it opens.  It changes us, widens and deepens our life perspective.  “It is the cycle of life and death.”** Grief redefines the Self as we perceive it – past, present, and future.  It opens, not closes.  With our own inner grief work and others by our side, we gradually find times of peace, of healing, and of transformation.  It is far better than “closure.”

That is ultimately our fondest hope and our good fortune as we proceed, continually acclimate, adjust, and strive to succeed. With hope comes responsibility to act, to struggle with adaptation.  What counts is the courage to continue.  Love is stronger than death.  Hold that thought.  Hold the relationship with love.

That is a hallmark of our strength and growth.


*This essay was prompted by Bart Sumner’s blog post, “Raking Leaves,” a father’s grief:, @BartSumner, @Healing_Improv

**Bart Sumner, “Raking Leaves”


Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” [ Death: The Final Stage of Growth, 1975 ]

Beautiful people do not just happen.

Grief opens and transforms.

Rea Ginsberg is a retired director of social work services, hospice coordinator, and adjunct professor of clinical social work. She can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @rginsberg2.


#end of life, #grief, #closure, #finality, #hope, #growth, #courage, #community, #transformation, #love

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12 thoughts on “CLOSURE in Bereavement: There is No Such Thing*, Rea L. Ginsberg, LCSW-C, ACSW, BCD

  1. Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy Post author

    A new and “forgiving” view of time and closure. Rea makes us feel “normal” in our ongoing processing of loss~ how grateful we all should be for her shared wisdom!

  2. Pingback: CLOSURE in Bereavement: There is No Such Thing*, Rea L. Ginsberg, LCSW-C, ACSW, BCD | It’s OK to Die | Loss, Grief, Transitions and Relationship Support

  3. Ellen Rand

    Lovely article. “Closure” happens to be one of my least favorite words on the planet — I so agree that there isn’t any such thing. For me, bereavement has been more of a process of absorbing loss into my spirit and I carry my parents, my grandparents and several friends with me. And I believe loss has made me more focused on living in the moment and appreciate pleasures large and small.

  4. Lorree Ratto


    Another home run…excellent synopsis. Grief never goes away – we get used to it and hopefully find a way to transcend beyond the pain and find a peaceful place in which we keep those that have died safely in our hearts.

    1. Rea

      THANK YOU, Lorree! Just so. We keep those who have died, keep them forever safely in our hearts, in our thoughts. — Great comment.

  5. Kim Moye

    Having been in elder care for 20 years, the article above spontaneously triggered memories of the myriad of interactions I have had with my clients. There has indeed, among them, remained a common thread of a continued relationship with the deceased spouse. Yes, they are gone but a “transformed” relationship exists. I saw this is the way a reference to the former spouse would be made, often in the present tense. Emotions of tenderness, missing them, sometimes even a precious girlish look on a beautiful elder face when a woman would mention how her sweetheart treated her. Many women still had a strong sense of the physical presence of their spouse, (the other side of the bed is most always reserved somehow) not in a mystical way however. These living memories and simple “cattle trails” of daily existence with another person, I have always perceived as a healthy comfort and yes, the continuation of the now transformed relationship. Rea’s thoughts are truly a reflection of what I have seen and experienced in my personal life and in my work. Thanks!!

    1. Rea

      Kim, thank you for this extensive discussion and affirmation! I very much appreciate your reflections on your own experiences! No doubt about it: grief opens and transforms.

  6. Peter Q

    Closure certainly does not exist. Especially if certain relatives ruin your mother’s funeral.

    An aunt and I got into an argument, WHICH SHE STARTED!!!! and refused to speak to me. I tried my best to make peace with her, not for me, but for my mother’s sake. When she wound’t budge, I gave into her demands, and she still wasn’t speaking to me.

    Day of the funeral, She continued to not speak to me, and pushed me into leaving the funeral. Her psychotic daughter stormed up to me and tried to drag me back to the funeral, insisting the whole thing was my fault. When I refused to go with her, she slapped me, breaking my glasses. eventually, I did return, but my thoughts were not on the funeral, nor my mother. They were on how I was humiliated, and hurt.

    TO this day, all I can remember from my so called family did. I still haven’t been able to grieve for my mother. I wanted so much to make up for this funeral. Perhaps a memorial of some kind, but it’s too late. It’s been three years.

    I was never allowed to express how much my mother meant to me, and I failed her.

    I can never let go of this pain. For me, there is no healing. The wounds have gangrened. No matter how far I go in my life, (If at all,) I will never get past this, nor will I ever forgive my aunt and cousin for what they did!


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