Sep 27

Closure On Grief: Is it Possible?

When it comes to the process of grief, dealing with uncertainty is hard; many long for closure instead.

In 2009 social psychologist Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, posted an article about how we deal with uncertainty (“What You Don’t Know Makes You Nervous“). He explained that not knowing is anxiety-provoking because it tends to make you project your feelings into the future—feelings that may never happen.

What about closure, the often-sought alternative? First, what actually is closure? Sociologist Nancy Berns, author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us (2011), finds that the definition of this widely used term varies depending on who’s using it—and, in short, that closure is a made-up concept.

From her website:

Closure has been described—in contradictory ways—as justice, peace, healing, acceptance, forgetting, remembering, forgiveness, moving on, answered questions, or revenge….

But closure is not some naturally occurring emotion that we can simply find with the right advice. Healing? Yes, healing is possible, but that is different from closure.

Myth Slayers is her term for those who mostly agree with her; the Walking Wounded is for those who don’t. In short, “Myth Slayers want the freedom to grieve” (Psychology Today); the Walking Wounded “are stuck in a holding pattern internalizing the belief that without closure they cannot move on with life” (Psychology Today).

In sum, she says “…(T)here is no point of ‘final closure,’ no point at which we can say, ‘Ah, now I have finally completed my grief.’ Or, ‘Yes, now I have healed.’ There is no point at which we will never cry again, although as time goes on the tears are bittersweet and less common.”

Another expert who doesn’t believe in closure is Pauline Boss, who coined the term ambiguous loss to represent, broadly speaking, loss without closure.

Some quotes from Pauline Boss’s The Myth of Closure (2021):

My point is this: Continuing to use the term “closure” perpetuates the myth that losses and grief have a prescribed time for ending—or never starting—and that it’s emotionally healthier to close the door on suffering than to face it and learn to live with it.

Ambiguous loss makes us feel incompetent. It erodes our sense of mastery and destroys our belief in the world as a fair, orderly, and manageable place. But if we learn to cope with uncertainty, we must realize that there are differing views of the world, even when that world is less challenged by ambiguity . . . If we are to turn the corner and cope with uncertain losses, we must first temper our hunger for mastery. This is the paradox.

The secret to coping with the pain of an uncertain loss, regardless of culture or personal beliefs, is to avoid feeling helpless. This is accomplished by working to change what we can and accepting what we cannot.

Feb 04

“Why We Can’t Sleep”: Women in Mid-Life

Calhoun…argues that Generation X women find middle age harder than those older or younger. Kirkus Reviews, regarding Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun

And although this premise may be one of the most controversial of Why We Can’t Sleep—because middle age has been hard for other generations too—it doesn’t diminish the enthusiasm of some Gen X women (those born between 1965 and 1980) for the validation offered by popular memoirist/author Ada Calhoun.

Selected Quotes from Why We Can’t Sleep:

Gen Xers are in ‘the prime of their lives’ at a particularly dangerous and divisive moment,’ Boomer marketing expert Faith Popcorn told me. ‘They have been hit hard financially and dismissed culturally. They have tons of debt. They’re squeezed on both sides by children and aging parents. The grim state of adulthood is hitting them hard. If they’re exhausted and bewildered, they have every reason to feel that way.

We’re the first women raised from birth hearing the tired cliché “having it all”—then discovering as adults that it is very hard to have even some of it.

Generation X marks the end of the American dream of ever-increasing prosperity. We are downwardly mobile, with declining job stability. It used to be that each generation could expect to do better than their parents. New research confirms that Generation X won’t.

Selected Excerpts from Ada Calhoun’s NPR interview:

…(O)nly one in four Gen X women will outearn her father. So there’s always numbers that I just kept coming across that really show that it’s not just us. It’s not just us not working hard enough, not doing enough, that actually there are these forces at work against us.

The cost of being middle class in America is much higher than it was. And our mothers and grandmothers could afford often to stay home. That’s not an option for most of the middle-class Gen X women.

One thing that a sociologist who studies the generations told me is that our generation tends to judge ourselves based on everything. So if, you know, in the past the question was, how nice is your home, or how good are you at your job? Now, it’s all of the things. So it’s, are you a good parent? Are you good at work? Is your house nice? Are you in shape? Are you recycling? It’s every single factor in life you have to excel at. And I think that level of pressure is unsustainable.

Selected Excerpts from Reviews of Why We Can’t Sleep:

Publishers Weekly:

Despite all the damning statistics (‘one in four middle-aged American women is on antidepressants’) and real-life reports of exhaustion, ennui, and husbands who go on ski trips instead of paying the electric bill, Calhoun persuasively reassures Gen X women that they can find a way out of their midlife crises by ‘facing up to our lives as they really are.’

Kirkus Reviews:

On the basis of scanty evidence, Calhoun identifies [her population] as being latchkey kids and children of divorce and hampered by receiving ‘two primary messages’ from their childhoods as the offspring of overly optimistic feminist mothers: ‘One: Reach for the stars. Two: You’re on your own.’

Foreword Reviews:

The book coins a poignant term for the complex feelings that Gen X women have around middle age: ‘ambiguous loss,’ or ‘a particular type of loss that is hard to define and lacks closure.’ When there are massive gaps between expectations and achievement, and the sources of those gaps touch on almost every major affective factor of adulthood, it’s no wonder middle-aged women feel a loss so large that it seems impossible to pinpoint, and that sleeplessness comes from being unable to close the hole torn inside.