By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. This is a story about death and remembrance, one of the most difficult of subjects; universal reality for every human… but one we approach with the utmost diffidence, wanting to make the troubling matter which touches upon our own mortality short, clean,crisp, so that the experience is sanitized and efficient. We want to treat it as a management problem not as profound unsettling event. We want closure… and we want it as soon and as effortlessly as possible.
But death and remembrance do not work that way… it is not a management problem; it is about our own oblivion, and it must be treated with the high seriousness it deserves.
That’s why I have selected revered Mozart’s “Requiem Mass in D minor” (K. 626) for the musical accompaniment for today’s article. It is the precise sound needed to help you consider the matter of eternity, including your own. You will find it in any search engine. Allow yourself to be touched by this masterpiece unfinished at his death, which the Master left in 1791 for his encounter with God. It will help us with ours and help the loved ones who must deal, in due course, with our own passing.
How a new book by Professor Nancy Berns can help.
Drake University associate professor of sociology Nancy Berns has just published a work which may perhaps become seminal, offering as it does vital insights into the prevailing American way of grief, remembrance and the matter of “closure.” Her book is titled “Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us,” and it comes just as the nation faces another agonizing bout of remembrance on the never-must-be-forgotten events which fall under the name “9/11”.
Her subject is important, timely, and of the greatest significance to every one of us: is closure a desirable objective, or is it another illustration of our national disinclination to deal with subjects at once difficult, distasteful, and perhaps irresolvable? Let’s start with a definition of “closure,” “that which closes or shuts down.”
It’s easy to see why real everyday people want death and its aftermath to be an “over ASAP” matter. We live in a culture which not only values but obsessives over the need for youth, beauty and boundless health and which sees in age and the weight of enfeebling years the markers of debility, always measuring by how much is gone and how much may remain. Death thus becomes not just an event but the event which deprives us of everything… and gives the hot potato of your death and disposal to people who want to pass it on immediately and get back to life. For such people (for all they may have loved us) the concept of “closure” is absolutely essential because it gives them the right to forget and forget as fast as possible. This is especially true where the fatalities have been significant… as they can be in wars, natural disasters and traumatizing outrages like 9/11.
Images of 9/11
9/11 seared the national memory with images profound, haunting, horrifying, indelible. Each of us, all of us, have been bothered and afflicted by these images which in an instant altered our consciousness and diminished our securities. We close our eyes and will it otherwise but these images abide with us forever, the residue of carnage. We attempt to make sense of the senseless by creating statistics, for that is easier than remembering the victims, those blown to Kingdom Come mid-air and those on whom the debris and the bodies fell, eliminating lives in a cascade of unimaginable flames.
- 65 percent of the victims were between 31 and 50 years old.
- 76 percent of those killed were men.
- 64 percent of the dead were married.
- 72 percent had at least one dependent.
- Nearly 39 percent made at least $100,000 a year.
Statistics give a kind of distance — and closure.
9/11 oppresses us, not merely because of the original event, but because we want to “move on”, into a world where the impact of this tragedy lessons and gives us peace… without guilt; closure, with finality.
Here’s where the deeper insights of Professor Berns come in.
She argues, and I think rightly, that closure is a concept born in our speed-driven culture. It is an appealing idea because it offers a definitive end to our suffering or grief and thereby offers an acceptable basis for starting a new life chapter where there is no sorrow, guilt, or anger. An invention of Gestalt psychology, this concept is now a cultural commonplace in every area of national life. But the fact that this notion is widely cited and believed does not make it real or true, merely convenient.
Thus we do a grave disservice to the dead, to ourselves, and to what we should rather do to reaffirm our humanity and gain the benefits that come from celebrating the dead… and letting them abide, much loved, never forgotten, as vital as our brain can make them and recall.
Thus, grief is not bad. It is not some set destination, to be concluded at a certain time and in a certain manner. It is not something that must necessarily end, or which by ending, brings peace and serenity.
Grief is not like an illness which can and should be ended with the right pill or prescription. It is highly personal and cannot be regulated, regimented, erased by rules or reason. And so it is difficult for all and most want an early exit, a strategy that does not soothe or lesson the pain. Thus the pain continues, to the growing frustration and irritation of others who, grieving differently or not grieving at all, have “moved on”.
Just a century ago, people grieved quite differently; no doubt in part because they had more time and the pace of life was leisurely compared to our own. When people died, at home more often than not, strands of hair would be carefully cut, then annotated in copperplate hand and dispatched to relatives and a few special friends who loved the deceased. Some would be placed in or made into keepsakes, brooches, lockets with pictures. No one rushed the matter of grief… and social mores dictated a liberal amount of time, how long and in what way black should be worn, and the degree of reserve and retirement from society. No one vexed you by telling you to “move on, get closure.”
And no one should say so today. As we age, the ranks of our dear departed increase until, at the last, they undoubtedly outnumber the living. But the dead remain with us, too, and should for to forget them is to diminish ourselves. The intensity of that grief will wane… but the fact and meaning of that grief cannot.
And so I’ll end on this personal note. I have before me a letter from my mother dated Monday, November 18, 1985 and begins “My very dear son….” I would recognize the careful writing anywhere. This is how it opens “your letter came Saturday and I’ve been answering it ever since and throwing away the pages. I would so like to hold you and comfort you and ‘make the world go away'”.
I no longer remember the incident which provoked this response, but in every word I see her… and feel her love. And so I grieve anew for her death… and rejoice again that she abides with me and so long as I remain she remains and must be grasped and treasured accordingly. There is pain in this course… but there is solace,too… and to give up the one is to lose the other. And that would never do.
Which is why we must not seek closure but rather understanding that grief is the way we keep our beloved and honored dead in our lives… world without end, for ever and ever… amen.
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Dr. Jeffrey Lant is also the author of 18 best-selling business books.
Republished with author’s permission by Graham Lee – The Income Zone
To find out more about Professor Nancy Berns book – Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What it Costs Us visit Amazon.