Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery   St. Louis, Missouri

About Closure After a Suicide:

A term commonly offered as an end to the upheaval surrounding death is Closure. In the news, the movies, the church, and to the general public, it seems obvious. Some Grief Groups promote the idea of Closure, as the stage when mourning ceases and tranquil life returns. GriefShare, for example, titles their program guide "From Mourning to Joy."

For those left behind by Suicide, Closure is more complicated. In the wake of a suicide, the emotional debris makes returning to tranquility an insurmountable goal. Simply, unthinkable.

If you ask folks what Closure means, you get various definitions. For folks distant to the situation of a loss, the meanings and implications are not urgent. For those directly affected, Closure is more critical.

For those left behind by Suicide, the word closure is of keen interest, yet seldom discussed.

The driving motivation of a survivor is to end the uncertainties and calm the prevailing agonies.

So how do we reach this state of Closure?

First of all, it is vital to establish realistic expectations. Following a suicide, survivors get slightly paranoid about a return to the good times. Often the foremost thoughts center around what should have, or could have, made things turn out differently. Survivors lose touch with reality while envisioning the "what ifs."

Adjusting expectations comes slowly, partially due to the resident emotional pain, impaired ability to reason, and sheer exhaustion. Trying to reason how taking one's life was a solution can never be validated. That is not possible.

It is imperative that you grasp reality and occasionally walk away from the closure process. You cannot adopt someone else conclusions, nor can you be told what to accept or believe by anyone else. Foremost in your mind should be the reality, you will live out your life with whatever you decide, and it is not necessary to convince anyone else of your conclusions.

Use caution when you share your plan. Everyone will have an opinion no matter how unaware of the complexity of your project. . . AND . . . There are significant risks of confrontation when dealing with others regarding this subject.

It is possible (and common) to reflect on observed struggles your loved one faced. Clearly, things that we are aware of may have played a role in their decision, but there endless issues and circumstances that you can never know. In time you have to accept that a survivor cannot replicate the thinking or decision process for Suicide.

As a survivor, we face a long winding path that we have never traveled or even considered. Everything about it is new. The closure process is riddled with gaps that cannot be filled. Though sorting through what we know and seeking details we wonder about can be disturbing, in the end, they can bring peace to your conclusions.

If you are like me, you will change your mind and rethink all manner of details. It is just a natural happening as you work and rework the closure process.

I have adopted several explanations for "closure" specific to survivors of Suicide. These do not apply to suicide attempts, since attempts encompass a unique set of circumstances.

Closure is not a finality but an ongoing process. In certain aspects, it will continue so long as you live. I have encountered a few survivors that claimed total victory in this struggle. I applaud them and wonder how they did it. For me, there is a continual string of triggers that draw me back into the closure process.

Initially, the central question is, WHY? While "Why" churns inside our subconscious, survivors cannot avoid the issue internally or externally either in the present or future. The "Why question" is woven into our personal history. Coming to some conclusion is necessary and unavoidable, yet all along knowing it can never be validated. I needed it for me, and no one else.

A bit of structure and organization can help.

My analysis process developed around a filing concept. The central feature was an imaginary drawer labeled Closure. The drawer could be easily opened and closed . . . but NEVER LOCKED. While I opened it at times, I could shut it allowing me to engage in other things. A level of stress prevails when that drawer is open for extended periods.

There were memories, reflections of past conclusions recorded there. Each made me rethink my past.

If you looked inside my closure drawer, you would find a half dozen folders organized by categories:

1. Folders labeled open/unresolved issues that need checking into (I thought of these entries as being temporarily unknowns?)

2. Folders with all manner of gathered details (noting the source and date) that no conclusion had been reached. You might say a "cold case" file of random information.

3. Folders of details on issues "actively in progress" (but presently unresolved.) These included ideas of people and places to look.

4. Folders for things I still wonder about but am afraid it would disrupt someone else's life if I pursued them.

5. A folder for something I am satisfied with - there is nowhere else to go. AND I need to stop the search.

6. Finally, my "wonderment file." This one is for things that are clear yet impossible to render Suicide as a solution.

This process lead me to write a Peace Letter. In retrospect, I see this as the beginning of the "letting go" process. Mainly, Forgiveness to her and all the cascading events that involved others. Some might assess this as an end to the blame game.  (BTW this occurred in the fall of 2007, so eight years had passed.)

Admitting that there are a lot of ways, I did not measure up to her expectations. I attribute them as failures on my part.

I tended this analysis process through years of struggles. This approach has ended in a state of peace. In some ways, a period of acceptance that "I can never (really) know the why." There are no further options at this point.

Work on all this leads me to my understanding that taking one's life follows no formula.

For most of us left behind, there were insufficient signs this was coming. It is typically a very tightly held secret our loved one maintained under wraps. Going to counseling with my wife, revealed some childhood traumas she faced, yet remained hidden for forty years.

Then after her death, I would discover her immediate family, and some of her friends at church knew. So to be unaware is not a mark against your relationship but more of a developed defense mechanism of the one you have lost. Indeed, some are more accomplished at hiding things than others.

Rebecca was a masterful performer, and even with years of therapy, she slipped by all her counselors.

During our last counseling session, I now realize, she was telling the counselor and me (by the way, a very experienced older fellow) that the barn was burning. Then less than three weeks pass, and she is gone just 5 days before our next counseling session.

You have to open the closure drawer to work, but you cannot leave it open permanently. You have to close it to maintain all the activities of life. It can never be sealed.

Here is where a survivor support group comes in. Once a week is an ideal routine. I suggest opening for that once a week session, work on stuff and close it for the next six days. It is not helpful to continually ruminate on all this. But healthy in the end to sort it all out and come to some personal understanding you can live with.

Nothing else (or persons) matters in this process, just yourself . . . period.

FHAS-About Closure After a Suicide V9-G-edited-09-28.2021