Learning to Die by Practicing Closure

Could it be that learning how to die is a prerequisite to learning how to live? We typically enjoy our euphemisms when it comes to talking about death and dying. We say, "Life is about change," and "Change is about something ending and something beginning." We avoid saying, "Change is about something dying and something being birthed." We are prone to sanitize anything affiliated with death. Because life is about non-permanence, death and birth are inescapably connected. It may be that being mindful of creating and acknowledging closure teaches us how to die and be more fully alive. Let's examine what closure is and how it might specifically benefit us.

What is Closure?

An old meaning of the word closure is a fence or encircling barrier. When we are attempting to bring closure to our experiences, we are encircling a barrier around a particular portion of our lives. We bring attention to as particular story we have been living in. We may encircle major themes in the story, including achievements, learnings, regrets, joys and sadness. We might need to address closure of a particular situation numerous times, each time letting go a bit more. Of course, when we bring closure to our physical life on the planet, we are encircling a barrier around our entire lives. There are several ways closure can be created:

Simple Acknowledgement. I recently had dinner with an old friend whom I had not seen in years. As the evening came to an end, I paused as we walked toward our cars, hugged him and said, "I'm glad we had this dinner together."

Identifying the Emotional Impact. We can create appropriate closure with relationships having depth, meaning and longevity by reviewing what was shared and created together. Such a review can include joys, sadness, accomplishments, gratitude and regrets. When relationships and jobs end with bitterness and resentment, it can be difficult to encircle the experience with an accurate account of what transpired. When we leave a relationship or a job as a victim, we may take more of the experience with us rather than let go of it. We can diminish leaving as victims by asking: "What motivated me to choose this person or this job?" and "How did I come to stay with this person or remain in this job?"

Allow For Grief. When losses are large, we many need to grieve for a while in order to get closure. When a relationship ends and what dies is a dream of what could have been as well as what was, the grieving process might be more intense. Some grief may not reach satisfactory closure such as a parent experiencing the death of a child.

Ritualize. Rituals that allow us to employ our hearts, minds and bodies can greatly contribute to satisfactory closure, which means we let go of more than what we take with us. I closed out a 13-year teaching career at a small college. I asked seven of my colleagues to roast me. We laughed and cried, with a math professor saying tearfully, "I'm afraid we won't remain friends." We all had a deep sense of what was ending.

Benefits of Closure

Life is and will remain essentially mysterious and ambiguous. When we draw a fence around a specific portion of our lives, these can be the benefits:

Supports Focus. Closure helps us to focus on what was and what is. We gain clarity about the part of our lives that is gradually slipping into our past. We run less of a risk of attempting to live, that which has ended.

Offers A Blessing. Recently, a woman described to me the challenge of ending her therapy practice. I suggested that some intentional closure could honor her devotion, her achievements and what she created with her clients. Closure can be a viable opportunity to celebrate and bless our lives.

Supports Transition. We often need more support as we face change. What gave us a feeling of familiarity, security and purpose may be pealing away. What's next may possess considerable ambiguity. What we will need in order to regain fulfillment and satisfaction may not be clear. Here are some closure questions that can at least help to clarify what we are letting go of: What will I miss? What am I proud of? What do I need practically and/or emotionally during this transition? Who is a resource I can call on during this transition?

Clarifies Personal Identity. As we pause and encircle a portion of our lives, we can clarify who we are: What did I give? What did I receive? What was accomplished? What did I learn? How will my life be different now? What do I regret? What is this ending asking of me?

Accepts Non-Permanence. A benefit of engaging in closure is the reminder we are on a non-permanent journey. With each closure we attend to, we can learn a bit more about letting go, about dying.

Premature Closure

Premature closure suggests some story we live in is brought abruptly up short. There is not enough consideration of whether or not the story deserves more life. Another expression of premature closure happens when the closure itself is pithy, missing major themes in the story. Premature closure is appropriate when there is clear and eminent danger. When there is no apparent danger, premature closure is driven by such fears as fear of failure, fear of success, fear of rejection, fear of love and fear of being consumed. Hence, these fears need to be explored before we can participate in a more enduring story, deserving of closure when appropriate.

We live in a death-denying culture. Our denial is partially due to the inherent mystery accompanying physical death. We comfort ourselves by anticipating something new and different happening after life's small deaths. Relationships, jobs, where we live and kids leaving home are small deaths we manage by calling them changes yielding new life. Yet, they are all opportunities to learn how to die. Such learning favors living more fully with appreciation and acceptance for life's non-permanence. As acceptance of non-permanence deepens, then so does the denial of death erode.