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Is “closure” a myth?

Drake professor Nancy Berns’ new book explores the meaning and misconceptions of closure and grief.

Ten years ago, the 9/11 attacks forced Americans into a long process of national grieving, and many are looking for closure to put a stop to the pain.

Drake University Associate Professor of Sociology Nancy Berns argues that the popular concept of “closure” may be nonexistent. In fact, she says that the search for closure can be counterproductive to the grieving process. In her new book, Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us, Berns examines grief of all kinds, including failed relationships, loss of loved ones and national tragedies.

“We all face loss in our lives,” Berns says. “Yet a common expectation is that we need to rush grief and find ‘closure.’ I wrote this book to help people understand why the concept of closure became so popular, why it is confusing, and why it does a poor job of capturing the experiences of grief and loss.”

Two recent events, Osama bin Laden’s death and the verdict of not guilty in Casey Anthony’s trial, make her book especially relevant right now. Bin Laden’s death sparked a national debate about closure’s role in 9/11 and the War on Terror. The Casey Anthony verdict is a case where many Americans felt a lack of satisfaction and social justice, and many cited a lack of closure.

Berns writes that the search for closure in cases such could discount the actual grieving process, as well as ignore the grief still felt after the supposed closure event. Those mourning Caylee Anthony, for instance, would still be grieving her death regardless of the verdict.

While Berns argues that closure is unrealistic, the tone of her book is not negative. She begins by writing that closure can mean many different things to different people, and that closure is a term that limits our understanding of grief.

She also notes that people misguidedly try to push grievers toward the search for closure. This can be hurtful for a griever who is not looking for closure, or even more painful for a griever who fails to find closure.

Nancy Berns

“The concept of closure taps into a desire to have things ordered and simple, but experiences with loss and grief are typically messy and not easily resolved,” Berns says. “The appeal of closure resonates with our hope that pain will end and healing will come. But closure does not capture the complexity of grief. More importantly, healing can come without closure.”

Berns’ main teaching and research interests include grief, death, violence, media, social constructionism and social justice. At Drake, she teaches the courses Death and Society and Narratives of Tragedy and Grief.



Closure has already received national attention. Berns was recently interviewed by the Boston Globe and appeared on both Iowa Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Radio to talk about the book.

Visit www.nancyberns.com For more information on Closure.

— Jack Thumser, Class of 2012