Our need for closure

Five years ago, come July, my dad passed away. (Yesterday would have been my parents 65th wedding anniversary.) I was given the blessing of God to be able to be present for his last days, even though I live on another continent. God gave me similar blessings when my paternal grandmother and grandfather died as well. As a result, I was able to deal with grief in a positive way.

The human being has an inherent need for closure. Some feel a greater need for it, others less, but our psychological make-up drives us toward putting a tidy bow on intense emotional upheavals such as these:

  • a loved one’s death,
  • the breakdown or ending of a relationship,
  • the loss of a job or essential income,
  • loss of home, possessions or life in natural disasters, such as tornados, fire, earthquake, or flooding,
  • debilitating, long-term, or fatal illnesses.

We naturally look for explanations to events. However, we are often faced with situations whose explanations are unknown or hidden. The resulting ambiguity or uncertainty leaves us unsettled. We want to know why. We ask such questions as these:

  • How could this happen?
  • What does this say about me?
  • What will my future be like now?
  • Why did God let this happen (to me)?
  • Will I be able to survive this?

Such questions are being asked during the present crisis. One example is not being able to attend to the process of burying loved ones who have deceased. Limited travel, quarantine, social distancing, all keep close relatives from having a funeral, seeing the body, saying last goodbyes at the graveside.

  1. Exercise patience. We want answers and solutions now, but often processes and experiences are drawn-out affairs. Let yourself grieve, allow time for healing. Shock to the psyche is not unsimilar to shocks to the body: It may occur suddenly, but recovery requires time.
  2. Seek affirmation from positive people. Not every friend knows how to deal with your need for closure. Find one or two who can basically affirm you as a child of God who is loved and valued.
  3. Be willing to live in the meantime with the ambiguity. We don’t have all the answers. We can let life throw its seeming contradictions and upheavals at us and still be assured that God is sovereign and will bring all things to their proper conclusion. This is an appeal to faith and hope.
  4. Make a list of positive outcomes and opportunities. Perhaps just now you see none, but pull out that paper, write down the title, and let your mind work at creating that list. If you set it to work, it will surface positives.
  5. Set a new goal in life that is reasonably within reach, nothing complicated or intricate. Let the grieving and closure process run side by side with the pursuit of the positive and the spiritual. This way the latter can grow in strength as the former diminish, so that you’ll not be left with a gap in your life and forward movement.
  6. Continue healthy habits of both body and spirit. (By the latter, we mean prayer, Bible reading and meditation, and time with the family of faith.) For a while, you may just be going through the motions as your emotions still reel from the experience. Before long, however, those habits can pull you away from the edge and into a more centered mindfulness and focus on the presence of God and the love that still operates in all his will.
  7. Give up attempts to control your life. This is no contradiction to the previous points, but a simple recognition that so much of life is beyond our ability to control. God gives us many opportunities, but he doesn’t tell us all that he is doing in this world. He does assure us that he works for our good and has power to carry through with his benevolent purpose. Those two truths are the most solid basis we have from keeping the traumatic experiences of life from sweeping us away.

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