Do parents really ever want to forget a child who has died? After Rev. John Perkins, one of America’s national leaders on racial reconciliation and founder of Mendenhall Ministries in Mississippi, lost his 40-year-old son Spencer suddenly to a heart attack, his shock and devastation was immense. But he was grateful that he’d had a recent conversation with John Huffman whose daughter died shortly after graduating from Princeton University. “He told me, contrary to what people thoughtlessly urged, that he never wanted ‘to get over’ his beloved daughter.” He believes this sage advice prepared him to live with sorrow. “I’ve learned to release what I can, and embrace the pain that stays.”
THE RUSH TO CLOSURE
His experience echoes the research of sociologist Nancy Berns,Ph.D. who wrote Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What it Costs Us. I first learned of her pivotal work through a mother who lost a still-born daughter years earlier, and now volunteers with the Forget Me Not program helping other families who lose newborns. Myth-slayers in Bern’s book insist “Closure isn’t possible, isn’t necessary, isn’t wanted, and isn’t good.” She examines how contemporary Americans have created this relatively new emotional term to help themselves deal with loss and grief. The concept is so popular in our culture it even emerges in television sit-coms and crime shows like Friends, or Law and Order, and often after national disasters like Katrina or 9-11, even the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.
So people assume it exists and therefore they need “to find” closure. But many argue it offers a false hope, and adds pressure when living with life-long loss. This causes people to wonder if something is wrong with them for still missing one they deeply loved. Even worse, sometimes others judge someone who hasn’t “found” closure yet. This leads to persons bearing and burying grief silently in fear of being misunderstood. Although she teaches classes in narratives of grief at Drake University, it isn’t just an academic interest. Death became quite personal when their son, Zachariah, was stillborn in 2001. “Our world crashed around us.” During this traumatic time, many reached out and offered kindness. But other experiences left her lonely and disconnected. She felt pressure to “move on” from people who didn’t mean to be unkind, but just thought is was expected and best for her. Instead, she has explored healthy ways people rediscover joy and healing while still remembering the one they loved. You can read more of her story on her closure blog under www.nancyberns.com. or hear her excellent TED talk “Beyond Closure: the space between joy and grief” on YouTube.
The Oregon poet William Stafford expresses this beautifully in his poem “Consolations.” Here’s part of this:
“The broken part heals even stronger than the rest,”
they say. But that takes awhile.
And, “Hurry up,” the whole world says.
They tap their feet. And it still hurts on rainy
afternoons when the same absent sun
gives no sign it will ever come back.
What has been your experience?