In a book I read the other day, the character mentioned that he found closure after the death of his wife, which led me to believe that the writer had not himself experienced such a loss because, when it comes to death, especially the death of a spouse or child, there is no closure. There can’t be. The circle of grief never closes because the loved one is always dead. They are always missing from our earthly life, and the void they leave behind is never filled. There is no time when we can say, “Okay, that’s done. Let’s move along.”
At some point we begin to find the road to life again, but we will always miss our loved one and will never forget. As time goes by it gets easier and we learn to cope with the necessary changes, but there will not be closure.
Another word that is often bandied about when it comes to grief is “acceptance.” Finding closure implies an acceptance of what happened, and yet, there is not way to ever “accept” the death of a loved one. It’s not our death to accept but theirs.
Acceptance is supposed to be one of the stages of grief, but I’ve never actually gone through that stage (nor did I experience most of the supposed stages of grief for the simple reason that they do not adequately reflect the reality of grief for a life mate, soul mate, spouse or child). I cannot accept that he is dead for the simple reason that it’s not my place to accept it. Acceptance to me suggests that it is okay, and I will never believe that it is okay for him to be dead (even though I do understand the necessity of it).
If “acceptance” means accepting the reality of our loss and understanding that they are gone, then there can be no acceptance “stage.” The truth is that we “accept” the reality from the beginning, and therein lies the problem. If we didn’t understand that they were gone, we wouldn’t feel so bad. But we do understand they are gone. We feel the loss in our bones, our souls, our very beings. We feel it with every breath we take. We feel it in the emptiness of our hearts and our homes. We have no choice but to face the reality.
The only way “acceptance” works in the grief equation is to accept that we have no control over the situation. Accept that we will always miss them. Accept that we will always grieve to some extent. Accept that we’ll never be the same as we were. Accept, too, that grief is not a negative. Grief is an important adjunct to a profound loss, a way to process the unacceptable and unfathomable, a means of moving from being part of a couple to being alone.
As a friend wrote me, ‘Acceptance needs to be viewed as a continuum. Acceptance does not mean “one and done”.’
Many people who have undergone such a loss have a need for adventure, as I did. I never understood this need, but seen in the light of “acceptance” or “non-acceptance,” it begins to make sense. We feel the changes, know we need to go along with the flow of our new life, but we don’t want to accept the new status quo. We didn’t want this new life, didn’t choose it. Even more, it seems such a betrayal of what we once were, what we once had. And so we are unsettled.
To a great extent I have let Jeff go. Somewhere during the past years, I realized that no matter how connected we were when he was alive, we are two distinct people, each on a special journey. For a while, our paths entwined, but now our roads have swung into two different directions. No matter how much I miss him, miss the me I was when I was with him, miss our shared dreams and goals, there is no turning back. The future beckons, and I must go where it leads me.
Perhaps that’s acceptance of a sort. It might even be considered closure of a sort. All I know is that, like the so-called stages of grief, any jargon that is associated with grief falls short of the reality.
Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.
March 11, 2020 at 3:32 am
My father who is ninety experienced at the age of seven the death of his father, later in his life the death of his 45yr old son and finally four years ago the death of his 86 year old wife of sixty years. He said to me when my husband died
“You never get over the deaths…you just find a way to live with it”.
My spin on that is “I will never accept the death as an event I can leave behind as “over” in a similar way you say you never get over the grief nor fill the void. I continue to search for ways to accept living with it because that task so far does has not ended.
I think the word “acceptance” might also imply some form of forgetting to me. I can’t define it to much more than that…
Maybe since the biology aspect of two being one has run its course I fear an emotional break…because memory will fade…like a specialized form of dementia…soulmate dementia. Acceptance that his death was “ok” would somehow speed up that dementia. I can’t bear thinking of loosing him twice.
Thank you for a thoughtful and heartfelt essay.
March 11, 2020 at 5:11 pm
He’s right. You never do get over it, but you do find a way to live with it. I don’t think it’s healthy to want to get over it — I think it’s important to keep the memory, even to feel pain at times. A person should not pass from this earth without someone caring enough to keep him close. Someone once told me they wished they could take away my memory so I wouldn’t feel such pain, which stunned me. Pain is a small price to pay for memories.
March 11, 2020 at 2:54 pm
“There is no turning back” – this single phrase is to me a huge, huge factor in grief and bereavement. The death of a partner changes who you are, and it simply isn’t possible to bounce back in the way that society demands of the bereaved. You become – somehow – a different person in the aftermath. As always Pat you write so well about this whole weird experience!
March 11, 2020 at 3:22 pm
Thank you for your kind words. As horrible as the experience was, grief for a partner fascinates me — as you said, it is a weird experience. There is nothing like it, nothing to compare it to. It simply is. We get used to the concept of “do-overs.” You make a mistake, correct it, and go one. But you can’t do that after a profound loss because you’re not the same “you,”
March 11, 2020 at 7:47 pm
The maxims “Write what you know” and “You must suffer to write” are what come to my mind with respect to this writer who referred to “closure.” One day he will really get it. Until then he should stick to other topics.
March 11, 2020 at 9:26 pm
I have a hunch most people who mention grief in a novel think they understand profound grief because everyone has suffered some sort of loss, so they think they are writing what they know. But they don’t, they can’t, not unless they have experienced the loss of a life partner. They should at least know that they can’t know and, like you said, stick to other topics.