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How do you get closure after the death of a loved one?

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Finding closure can help you avoid getting stuck in the cycle of grief

Losing a loved one is hard, but it’s especially hard if you never reach closure. While it’s normal to feel grief and sadness after the death of a loved one, you need to work through some important steps to help you reach closure after a death.

What is closure?

Closure is the term used to describe the process of acceptance after the death of a loved one. It looks a lot like the final stage of grief. Closure doesn’t mean that you’ve completely forgotten about your loved one, but it does mean that you have returned to a new normal way of life. It’s not something that you just “get,” but it’s something that you must be consciously working toward for your emotional well-being.

Barbara J. Graham, LISW, CCTP, with Heartland Christian Counseling in Urbandale, Iowa, says it’s important to remember that grief is a fluid concept. One day you may be doing fine, but the next day you may struggle to stop crying.

“There is no timetable for grief. It resolves itself and we move on when we have done the work and can have some level of closure to let go and move on. But the person is still in our heart and has had an impact on us, or it wouldn’t hurt so bad,” she said.

Why you need closure

Without closure, or acceptance, you can become stuck in the cycle of grief.

“If one does not work through grief and denies, avoids, or stuffs the feelings down because it is too hard or overwhelming, then we can get emotionally stuck at the point the grief hits us,” Graham said.

Avoiding your grief can create problems in other areas of your life, and your grief could spiral into complicated grief. It’s important to deal with your grief in a healthy way to avoid this type of grief. 

How can viewing help with the process?

Sometimes people are unable to view the body of their deceased loved ones prior to the final send-off. Graham says that this can affect the closure process.

“Our brains are an amazing computer. It stores memories in the form of emotions, content, and all of our senses. To feel relief from the burden, mourning, and sadness of someone we love dying, we use our senses,” she said.

The inability to see and say goodbye hampers the normal mourning and goodbye processes, but getting to say goodbye in person helps the process of mourning and grieving move along somewhat.

“This also can help someone who is in the denial process and can ease or give relief when we can see and say goodbye to our loved one,” Graham said. “It can move the process to help us better let go and have the closure we need when it is hard.”

Other closure ideas

Graham also suggests practices and activities that can be done to help receive closure:

  • Write a goodbye letter to your loved one and read it out loud to them if you feel comfortable.
  • Close your eyes and visualize the person so that you can tell them all the things that you meant to say to them when they were alive.
  • Find ways to keep a lost loved one’s memory alive, like planting a tree in their memory or starting traditions to honor them.

Photo credit: iStock

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