Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Monday, February 18, 2013

Looking For Closure

Closure is a word we often hear in relationship to widows and grief. It’s defined as an end to grief. We look for closure so we can move so-called forward. Closure to heal, closure to say good-bye to the past, closure to put a period at the end of our pain. Closure, closure, closure---well, phooey on all that! According to Nancy Berns, a sociologist at Drake University, seeking closure actually does harm to people who’ve suffered a loss. She says we don’t need it to heal. Instead of looking for closure we should be choosing to carry our grief forward. We don’t need an ending to our grief and in fact, she says closure doesn’t even exist.

Those were startling thoughts when I first heard them but what she means is what we actually need to do is to create a space for joy and a space for grief to co-exist. If we try to keep our grief in a tightly closed box---like the champions of closure say we must do---then we can’t bring forth the memories that make us smile, laugh and warms our hearts. We need to do this with memories and to do it without feeling guilty for not finding so-called closure, not “moving on” as the people around us are always looking for us to do. Guilt for wanting to remember shouldn’t walk hand-in-hand---she didn't say this part about guilt and memories but this is my nutshell interpretation of what she was getting at.

I can sure identify with feeling guilty about bringing Don up as often as I do. I’ll share a memory or antidote and immediately look at the person I’m talking with to see if they are making a judgment about me---looking at me with pity or something worse. Do they think I’m living in the past? Do they think I’m not making a big enough effort to move forward? Do they think I should be able to can carry on conversations and leave out 42 years of my life experiences as if Don was never a part of them? These are all self-doubting thoughts I’ve had and they are perfect examples of guilt walking hand-in-hand with remembering.

Nancy Berns says carrying grief and joy together is liberating. If you keep your grief in a box then you never get to take out the joy that went along with the relationship/person you grief. If you haven’t seen her seventeen minute video titled Beyond Closure, I’ve linked it below. It will give you a lot to think about. There is one thing she said I hope will stick to me if the occasion comes up. She says when you come across someone who is deep in grief the best thing you can say to them is, “Tell me about him/her. What was he/she like?” Instinctively I think I already knew this is a healing approach---let the memories flow, not bottle them up.

I got another envelope in the mail from Social Security this week addressed to Don with a warning in big black letters not open it if I wasn’t Don. When does it stop? It’s been 13 months. In the same batch of mail I got another letter addressed to Don inviting him to look at a new rehab nursing home that promises the place “could help him return back home again stronger and feeling better.” I read it over four times trying to figure out who sold his name to their mailing list. If anyone needs closure it’s the places that should have updated their records and stamped Don’s DECEASED before they sold his contact information.

The “rehab letter” was good for an hour’s entertainment, though, as I thought about various replies I could send them. I would have used the grave plot block number and row at the cemetery for a return address and tell them to “come get me! I’m cold down here in the ground! Make me feel better so I can return back home.” Dumb-ass marketing department…you really have to learn to laugh at stuff like this because if you don’t you’d spend your life crying. And would we really want to live in a world where the data of our lives is so well documented and connected that we couldn’t sneeze without Kimberly-Clark e-mailing us coupons for their Kleenex? Nope, not me, I’m already creeped out enough by Facebook "fingers” every where on the net. So instead I write letters in my head one of which would have said: Dear Dumb-Ass Marketing Director. Find some closure. Don is dead. But if you think you can help him, be my guest. He’s in the cemetery two streets over from your place.©


  1. If closure is letting the past be in the past, I'm O.K. with it. If closure means erasing the past, putting it away, well, I find this as ridiculous as putting joy away. Fluidly moving between all our feelings, including grief and joy, is ideal.

    I find value in framing our past and present lives and loves in terms of 'honoring' and 'dis-honoring'. I can no more imagine dishonoring my husband's memory than I can imagine dishonoring the woman I am. But for me to honor myself and my present life, I needed to rather forcibly eject myself from grief, where I'd become far too comfortable. Closing off the past gave me a chance to actually face and finally embrace the present, where I can experience joy. Now I hopefully can entertain both grief and joy, and it's easier to see the point the speaker is making.

    You'll be fine, whatever you do. I don't imagine you ever dishonoring your late husband, or yourself, either. So if 'closure' doesn't help, give it the heave-ho.

  2. Very thoughtful and thought providing comments, GowitheFlow. I don't really think I need closure as in shutting off the past. But I'm still a little confused on how one actually keeps grief side by side with joy without wallowing in the negative from time to time. Maybe that's the point Berns is trying to make, thought, that we're going experience a degree of grief forever...in lesser degrees over time. So we must make/keep room for it.

    Closure sounds so final and I don't really want to think of closure where Don is concerned. But on the other hand, when my mother died and I had to decide whether or not to get involved in the class action lawsuit against the ambulance manufacture because they had built vehicles that had a deflect making them catch on fire all across the country, I know I experienced closure when the last day to join passed and I decided not to do it because I couldn't drag out my grief any longer. I made peace with her death that day and all the pain that went with it. So I'm thinking that there may be exceptions to Berns idea that the closure doesn't exist. Or maybe I've been using the word closure wrong all these years and I should call it is something else in my mother's case.

  3. Jean, I am so thankful for your humor. And I am glad you posted this video. Your thoughts touch on so many aspects of loss, and the expectations of ourselves and others in "getting over it". I read recently that the medical industry is changing their approach to cancer treatment, that more doctors are starting to view cancer as a chronic illness - something to be "treated", not "cured". I feel that way about grief, too. Like you said, it's something we carry forward with us, yet I don't think it's viewed that way by most people. I certainly didn't have a clue as to how grief really affects people, until I found myself in it. I wish there were a better, more widely accepted understanding of it. But is it even possible? It's so personal. Would it make it easier? I'm not sure, but I'd like to think so. In terms of bringing Don up in conversation...you were together for 42 years. I can't imagine trying to omit the on-going internal conversation and memories you have. I bring my husband up frequently. I need to for my own sanity. And I want to honor him. Others are afraid to, so I do it for them. Though I really wish people would ask. No one has ever asked me if I'd like to talk about him. I might just post the closure video to the omnipresent Facebook, that would be one way to help spread the word. - Katja.

  4. Bedraggled, I think it's the expectations of others for us to "get over it" that is the hardest to deal with. I love the idea of posting this video on Facebook but I'll bet those who really need to hear its message will never view it.

    Thanks for adding to this conversation!

  5. I have a feeling that those who urge others to get over their grief, get closure, and move on don't imagine people doing that after *they* are gone! I'm not a believer in some heavenly afterlife, but I believe that we gain immortality by living on in others' memories and in the living, love, and joy we shared with them. I hope that after I am dead, there are people who speak about me with the love and joy that you speak about Don. I love Nancy Berns's message -- healing, not closure. -Jean

  6. Jean---the other one. LOL I feel the same way about an afterlife... that our immortality comes from others' memories and the seeds we've planned in them. Only you said it so much better than me.