Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Grief and That Thing We Call "Closure"

What follows is the epilogue from my book How to Help a Grieving Friend, A Candid Guide for Those Who Care. The book was written to provide help to friends who are wondering how to give meaningful comfort to hurting hearts. It is a result of my personal experience with profound loss--and my personal experience apologizing to people for the stupid things I said and did when they were hurting and before I'd personally experienced profound loss.The working title of the book was "Lifestyles of the Well  Meaning But Clueless." It really was. 
     The older I get, the more I realize that the subject of grief is much bigger than the subject of death and dying. We humans grieve many kinds of losses in our lives--the loss of lifelong dreams, the loss of youth, the loss of a marriage ... experiencing loss and grief is part of life. I've become more tenderhearted as the years have rolled on, but I still have a lot to learn about how to help my grieving friends.  

In Closing ... A Word About Closure

My oldest son's best friend was killed when the boys were four years old. His mother cried when my son graduated from high school over a dozen years later. She has two healthy, wonderful children and a good life. But grief for the loss of her firstborn son returns with the milestones she will never share with him. It would not surprise me at all if she sheds a tear when my first son's son is born--grief for the grandchildren she will not have from that beloved son, no less beloved because he left us when he was only four years old. No other child can fill the Thomas-sized hole in that mother's heart.
     My best friend died in 1996. In 2003, when I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the toilet in what used to be her bathroom (and was now my bathroom because I had married her widowed husband), I cried. The last time I scrubbed this toilet, my best friend was dying in the other room. I wish she were here. I wish she hadn't died. I wish ...
     My new husband found me crying and understood. We laughed, then, about how convoluted life can be and how, if I still had my best friend Celest, there would be more than just a a slight problem with my having this new husband. I have a new best friend. But she is not Celest. The Celest-sized hole in my life remains.
     I am remarried. Life is good. But my love for my new husband has neither replaced nor diminished my love for Robert Thomas Whitson. I wish he could be here to talk late at night with his sons, to teach Sunday School classes, to give the elders' reports that always included humor and made the congregation laugh, to cheer on the Huskers football team. When our first grandchild is born, I know I will cry because I am crying even now as I write this. God has given me new love for a new mate. But it is new love. The old love remains. No one will ever fill the Robert-sized hole in my life.
     Jesus promises His followers that His burdens are light, and I have been in grief long enough to experience His lightening of my load. But it is a lightening, not a removal.The emotions of loss are still there just on the other side of today. Sometimes those emotions punch open the door between the past and the present, march into my life, and remind me of what I have lost.
     We do not close the door on people who have changed our lives forever. We celebrate what they have meant to us, and we look forward to seeing them again. And sometimes, even decades later, we cry.
     So in the closing of this book on grief, I want to say that closure, in the way most people mean it, does not exist. We gain new friends, we have more children, we remarry. The pain of loss becomes less, and we learn to live around it. But we still carry it. Sometimes it returns in full force, and we find ourselves crying, years after everyone around us assumes we have accomplished what our culture calls closure. This is painful, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. I think it is part of being human. It is part of loving and being loved. 
     And yes, it is worth it.

--Stephanie Grace Whitson

to read the rest of How to Help a Grieving Friend:


  1. What poignant words ......I can tell they come from you heart and life. I have said it for many years as I watched my grandparents age into their upper 90's. The older you get, the more you deal with loss, I saw them navigate those waters many times and in many one by one they passed. May we rest in Him and the promises of His Word!!!

  2. Stephanie, How heart touching this article is. I have had to move through this trial two times in past two years once when my dad passed and last year when my husband of 46 years passed.
    Your sharing was very inspiring. Thank you

    1. God bless you. I hope this finds you navigating your new life with a sense of peace and God's presence.

  3. Stephanie, this is beautiful. Thank you! I am one who has suffered losses other than death, learning to 'live around them', and only recently learning about the grief of death (my mother died in March, almost 95, she hadn't known me for quite some time). It is comforting and encouraging to read your words, straight from your heart. Why do we create such impossibilities (i.e. closure) for ourselves. I recently read the advice to go straight through the center of grief when it hits. God has promised to go through our trials with us, and to provide the strength to go through them (Isaiah 41:10) -- what more could we ask? Thank you so much for your encouragement. ~Joyce

  4. I like that image of going "straight through to the center" because it indicates the willingness to do what I call the "work of grief." Avoiding it only delays it and makes it harder IMHO.