Nancy Berns: “Closure Doesn’t Exist,” Let Grief and Joy Be Intertwined

July 2, 2013 § 3 Comments

4677361453_f392fc8e47_n“What have you grieved in the past?” asks Nancy Berns, a sociologist at Drake University. “What might you grieve in the future? And some of you are grieving today. It’s not just the death of loved ones that we grieve. Our life is full of losses.”

These include the losses associated with transitioning between homes and cultures, away from family, friends, and the familiar.

When faced with that grief, we usually look for ways to move on, to find closure. But according to Berns, “Closure doesn’t even exist. It’s a made up concept that we use to talk about loss and grief.” And trying to gain closure “can do more harm than good.”

in her TEDxDesMoines talk below, Berns, author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us, says that we shouldn’t box up our pain, close the lid, and walk away to look for a separate place of joy. In a previous post I asked, “Can Grief and Joy Coexist?” Berns is convinced that not only do they exist together, but they are intricately intertwined.

Listen to her explain this relationship and open a box to share stories of people expressing their grief . . . and joy. Hers is a message for those who are grieving and for those know others who are dealing with sorrow. And that pretty much includes us all, doesn’t it?

Knowing that joy and grief can be carried together is so important,” says Berns, “because it’s a long journey without the possibility of joy.”

So the next time that you see someone who’s entering that space of grief—might be a family member, might be a friend, a coworker, just someone you recently met—don’t hand them a box. Don’t tell them to find closure. Meet them where they’re at. And they might be broken and down and beaten up.

Then, kneeling on the stage, she continues:

Meet them where they’re at. And while you’re there, take a moment and look around, ‘cause you might be surprised at the view you have when you’re on your knees. And if you’re the one broken, you might be surprised at how comforting it can be to have someone just meet you where you’re at, not to try and get you to stand before you’re ready, not to try and take away your pain or explain it away. Just to be with you. And when you’re ready, to give you a hand up, to take those steps. . . . You see it’s not about closure. Healing? Yes. But that’s different.

[photo: “Box 5,” by Brenda Clarke, used under a Creative Commons license]

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