Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us

Have you noticed that following a tragedy people are often quick to talk about the need for closure? Has someone close to you died recently and you are feeling rushed by others to “move on” from your grief? What does closure even mean and can it be found?

These are just a few of the questions I raise in Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us. This book explains how closure has emerged as a key idea for talking about grief and loss and how the concept is used to sell products and politics. Furthermore, it explores whether people need closure to heal or even if it is possible to find.

Readers can use this book to understand the tangled web of closure and help navigate the emotional and social experiences resulting from grief and loss. On this blog, I will continue sharing insights and examples about closure and grief. I invite others to engage in a conversation about closure and our social expectations for how we should grieve.

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5 Responses to Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us

  1. Justin Struik says:


    This book looks fascinating! I plan on ordering a copy for myself.


  2. Donna Iversen says:

    Am always being told that to get closure , I need to forgive…some things are unforgivable. interested in your comments on this

    • nancyberns says:

      Hi Donna,
      Some people do make the claim that closure comes through forgiveness while others state the opposite: closure comes through revenge. Forgiveness is a difficult process that cannot be forced but can be instrumental in healing. However, there is no need to couple forgiveness with closure. Furthermore, people often have the wrong idea about forgiveness. Forgiving someone allows you to release anger and resentment, which frees the person doing the forgiving. It is not about forgetting nor does it require reconciliation with the person you are forgiving. In short, it is best to separate talk about closure from the process of forgiveness.

  3. I have my undergraduate degree from Drake in sociology (2000)and my graduate degree from Drake in vocational rehabilitation counseling (2009). If you read my web page and my Tribute to Laurel Rans below, you will see that I have a lot of practice grieving. I am very happy that you have written a book to help those experiencing this process.

    The Des Moines Register published my tribute to Dean Wright after he died:

    August 21, 2008
    Section: Main News
    Edition: DM
    Page: 11A
    ‘Dr. Dean’ gave me courage to tell my story
    Kern Bonnie

    Readers Editor’s note: R. Dean Wright of Des Moines, a longtime Drake University sociology professor and social-justice activist, died Friday at age 69.

    I received a seven-year sentence for bouncing a check in 1963, was the first woman allowed to participate in Iowa’s work-release program in the 1960s and gained my freedom in 1969, restoration of citizenship in 1974 and an executive pardon in 1982.

    I started my education in my 40s with a general-equivalency degree. I thought that if I just got enough education, I could tell the right people, in the right way, so they would help yesterday’s victims – the girls and women who were abused, especially by incest, as children and ended up in the mental-health and criminal-justice systems as I did.

    Initially, I followed a liberal arts path until I discovered Erving Goffman, a Canadian sociologist who’s an expert in human interaction. He wrote about institutionalization and said the things I wanted to tell those right people. I wanted to know how he knew those things without living through the experience. I switched my major to sociology.

    The day I met R. Dean Wright, a sociology professor at Drake University, I knew I had found my mentor. I would allow him to know my most intimate thoughts and feelings in exchange for the opportunity to gain an education, our own personal experiment to see whether rehabilitation really worked.

    The adviser I called “Dr. Dean” had me submit a paper to the Iowa Sociological Association’s 1995 annual meeting in Des Moines, where I won the Mary Alice Ericson Award. That day changed my life forever.

    I heard two other students presenting a paper they called participant observation. They had been in the back seat of a police car for an evening and observed what the officer did. It occurred to me that I had been doing that my whole life. I told Dr. Dean, “There isn’t anything wrong with me. I’ve just been doing participant observation for 40 years.” He laughed and nodded.

    Dr. Dean was patient as I struggled with socialization to an upper-socioeconomic population of students and professors. He explained concepts such as marginal, token, stigma and scapegoating and how they applied to my situation. He taught me methods and theories, and his wife, Dr. Susan Wright, taught me the realities of statistics. He encouraged me not to give up as I muddled my way through marriages and divorces. He tricked me into taking physics. I thought I was taking astrology.

    If he judged me, he never told me. He made me believe that I was special and had a story that should be written to help other women living my experiences. He sent me to the hardest writing classes at Drake. He supported me when I submitted a paper to the Midwest Sociological Society’s annual meeting in Minneapolis in 1999 and when I wanted to organize a session at the 2000 annual meeting in Chicago for my senior capstone. It was on institutionalized women.

    From the beginning of our relationship, I had a mental picture of Dr. Dean sitting at a table on the boardwalk with his drink in his hand while he took notes about me as I fought off sharks in the ocean. I knew that it wasn’t his job as a sociologist to save me or even to send help, but to watch the choices I made and how they worked out for me. I think we were both surprised when I walked out of the water and received my undergraduate degree in sociology on Mother’s Day 2000. I will earn my graduate degree in rehabilitation counseling in May 2009.

    Last year, I presented Dr. Dean with the first copy of my fictionalized novel, “Proclivity,” which shadows my life. It exists because he made me believe that my story was important and that I could write it. We agreed that I had lived through everything for a reason. It was sociologically imperative that I give voice to a population that has been silenced.

    I have been afforded opportunities that others are denied, and responsibility comes with those liberties. Dr. Dean taught me that I have to do the things that make sense to me, even when no one else understands. He taught me that I was, with enough education, in the position to be a communication conduit between the corrections department and the prisoners.

    I do my best every day to live up to his expectations of me. Thank you, Dr. Dean.

    BONNIE KERN of Des Moines is completing her graduate rehabilitation-counseling degree at Drake University. She plans to work with females in the Iowa corrections re-entry program starting in May 2009. She will be doing a book signing for her novel, “Proclivity,” from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Waldenbooks, Southridge Mall. Contact:
    Copyright (c) The Des Moines Register. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
    One day I told Dr. Dean, “I have found a Bonnie I never knew was there and I don’t know what to do with her.”

    He told me, “Awe, just feed and water her. She’ll be all right.”

    I have to keep grieving simple….and give myself time to heal.

    Tribute to Laurel Rans:

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