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The Sweet Pursuit

Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive

The Closure Hustle

Locked doorYou need it. Everybody says so. Whether you’ve lost a loved one, a job, a relationship, or a pet, the one thing our culture insists will assuage your pain is closure—grief’s endgame. But is the concept of closure real, or is it just a way to exploit your heartache?

“Many bereavement scholars, grief counselors, and those grieving dismiss the idea of closure, but it continues to thrive in popular culture, politics, and marketing,” writes sociologist Nancy Berns in Contexts. Closure, which rose in popularity in the 1990s, “fits our culture’s quest to do things efficiently, following proscribed rules to get to a goal—in this case, an end to pain or loss. Since we are enmeshed in a consumer culture, it comes as no surprise that people turn to the marketplace to find grief rituals.”

And there are plenty of rituals to choose from: In the death care industry, where closure is king, a traditional funeral package can hover around $10,000. As cheaper cremations grow more common, funeral directors push viewings, which often require the cost of embalming, as necessary to reaching closure. There are also cremation-related products such as “memorial soil” (dirt mixed with ashes) and LifeGems (diamonds made from ashes); pet urns (to hold Fido’s ashes); and businesses like Air Legacy (to scatter ashes), all marketed as shortcuts to closure. The Everlife Memorials ash-scattering service, for example, claims that “aerial scattering offers a means of closure to families who are ready to take the final step in the grieving process.”

Other industries offer closure—for a fee—as well. Private investigators sell closure through the collection of evidence; psychics sell closure by offering answers from beyond; some forensic analysts even sell closure by hawking autopsies and the additional information they provide. And the growing divorce party industry sells products to help spurned wives and husbands shut the door on their marriages, with everything from party games like Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Ex to wedding ring coffins.

The business of closure reaches into the political realm, too. In an effort to advance their position, Berns writes, “death penalty advocates claim that killing a murderer will bring closure to the families of homicide victims.” She concludes:

The distorted message about grief that comes from closure marketing is this: You need closure. Salespeople and politicians have entered the business of grief counseling, but their advice is rooted in profits and politics. Expecting people to “find closure” within a particular time frame or after specific rituals does not help our understanding of grief. Selling products…in the name of closure exploits the emotional pain of grief, but it does not mean that closure exists or is needed.

That there is no finish line for grief frees you to experience it in a way that’s right for you. So, when it comes to the business of closure in your own life, consider leaving the door openeven just a crack—until you’re truly ready to ease it shut. 

Source: Contexts (article available to subscribers only) 

Image by Alcino, licensed under Creative Commons. 

Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.