Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Mourning: Beyond "Closure"
We’ve reached a stage in life where death is closer to us than it ever was: death of parents, friends, siblings, associates. When it happens, we are often given advice to obtain “closure,” defined as a sense of finality.
Within the past year and a half, I have lost my mother, my sister, and a favorite nurse. I do have a sense of finality, closure, but I would like something more. If my long-ill wife should die soon, I want more than just “coming to terms” with it.
A lovely book I recently read, Reflections from the Soul by former nurse Dr. Eboni Ivory Green, aims to take its grieving readers beyond closure to “homeostasis,” meaning “a sense of equilibrium,” not a shutting off, but a co-existing with. We are encouraged to connect with persons, places, things that remind us of the deceased and of the good associated with our relationship.
In her Introduction, she writes, “Matters of the heart are never truly closed. The sadness associated with losing someone you love never goes away completely. Yet, there is hope that one day the deep sorrow will now take a place in history.” Sorrow can be replaced by fond reflection and reminiscence.
The Power of the Pen and of the Mind
Dr. Green’s many losses moved her to write both prose and poetry, and she recommends that others write, too: remember how the departed once enriched your life, how certain objects or places or activities can bring back the connection you fear you have lost.
Outstanding individuals live on in our collective memory, many even past “the second death,” when the last individual who knew them personally has died.
The Risks of Falling in Love
When we love, we risk the heartache of death. As Helen Keller wrote, “All that we love deeply becomes part of us.” When a loved one dies, part of us dies.
Robert Frost wrote that “nothing gold can stay.” We have life, and love, on temporary loan.
Dr. Green quotes a line from the film Meet Joe Black, “To make the journey and not fall deeply in love---well, you haven’t lived a life at all.”
No Woman Is an Island
Even the deaths of strangers diminishes us. We view their obituaries with concern. Poet John Donne advised us to ask not for whom the church bell tolls its death knell: “It tolls for thee.”
Dr. Green wants us to distinguish between isolation, loneliness, and solitude. Isolation comes from our losses, loneliness a possible reaction to them, but solitude can provide the opportunity for acknowledgment, inspiration, reflection, and thus renewal.
“Men Get Mad. Women Get Sad.”
That generic adage does not well cover our responses to death. Sadness and anger at the death of a beloved are not exclusive responses of either gender. Sadness is typical, but anger is not uncommon.
How would death make you angry? Perhaps it seems so unjust. Perhaps someone should have behaved better. Perhaps there is, or should be, guilt or regret?
Dr. Green gives some sage advice on dealing with the emotions commonly accompanying the death of a loved one. Several chapter titles summarize her advice: Do That Which You Think You Cannot; From Isolation to Communion; You’ve Committed No Offense by Surviving; Cultivating Life-Enhancing Spirituality; Remembering You Makes Me Smile; You Do Not Need to Walk Alone; God Sets the Lonely in Families; Dancing Beautifully with a Limp.
Even within a family, there will often be a wide variety of responses to death, depending on: life experiences, position or station, personal relationships. Dr. Green describes ten common and quite different personas and reactions. She hopes that by understanding these differences the tendency for grief and anger to divide some families can be resisted.
Coming Up for AIR
Dr. Green recommends we breathe deeply metaphorical AIR: Acknowledgment of our loss; Inspiration from others; Reflection by ourselves. Her writings, quotations, and exercises help focus our efforts.
Cicero wrote, “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”
Those we love who have died we still want to keep in mind, rather than forgotten, closed off from us. So, let us not forget them, and to that degree, we allow them to live on.
Whom have you lost? How did you come to terms with that loss?
Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., is a former Harvard science professor. He still publishes, and he helps others write and publish their books via his business website, http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com. His life's central theme has been his half-century romance with his wife, Tina Su Cooper, now quadriplegic for over a decade due to multiple sclerosis, receiving 24/7 nursing care at home, as discussed at their website here.
First published in somewhat edited form at