By Michele Shimamura, LMFT, Hope Hospice Grief Support Provider
What does “closure” mean when you’re grieving the death of a loved one? This word is often used to describe the end of the grief process. Is that realistic? “Closure” doesn’t mean that you magically shut the door and move on with your life as though your loved one never existed.
“Closure” seems to imply that you may forget about your loved one. But in fact, you probably won’t ever forget. In death, the physical relationship ends; but the relationship with your loved one lives on in your heart and mind. This continued connection may occur when thinking, writing or dreaming about him or her and while talking to your loved one. Some people also experience “signs” that their loved one is present and may be communicating with them through the sighting of butterflies or birds, or finding coins on the ground.
While longing for your loved one will diminish in intensity and frequency, it is likely that you won’t ever stop wishing he or she was here. As the years go on and significant milestones such as graduations, weddings, or births occur, it is likely that you will think of him or her and long to share these events. Annual occasions such as anniversaries, birthdays, or holidays may also elicit a longing for your loved one.
Memories of your loved one do not disappear. Seeing a family member who resembles your loved one might spark the memory of a family reunion or holiday gathering. Looking at photos or videos can evoke special memories, and these memories are likely to become more welcomed than avoided.
“Closure” doesn’t mean that the pain of loss ends. During the grief process, the strong emotions you feel at first eventually become less intense and more bearable, but some level of pain never really goes away. At unexpected times throughout your life, there might be triggers that resurrect a bit of that pain. For example, hearing a special song on the radio, or seeing your loved one’s favorite cereal as you walk down the grocery aisle, or searching for an item in your closet when you come upon a glove, earring, or tie that belonged to him or her. Another stimulus could be the scent of hand lotion, perfume, or aftershave that your loved one used.
Other deaths are likely to resurrect pain, longing, and memories of your loved one. The grief process might also recur with each new death you experience throughout your life. “Closure” doesn’t mean that you will never mourn another’s death.
While there isn’t really “closure,” there is healing. Someone once said, “You don’t heal from a loss because time passes, you heal because of what you do with the time.” It is important to allow yourself to feel your feelings, talk about your loss, think about what has happened to you and your family, face fears that may test your courage, and try doing new things. It also is important to stay healthy by eating nutritious food, sleeping well, and with physical activity that helps to relieve stress or anxiety.
Hope Hospice Grief Support Center staff provides trained grief counselors who can assist in your unique grief-healing process. Counselors will help you accept the reality of your loss, experience and transform the pain of grief, adjust to an environment without your loved one, and to emotionally develop a new relationship with him or her — all of which enables you to move on with your life. The Center offers both individual, as well as group grief support. To learn more about Hope Hospice’s individual or group grief support for adults, teens, and children, go to http://hopehospice.com/grief-support-center/