I once read that there is no official psychological term known as "closure." I found that very gratifying, indeed.
"Closure" is a term we use instead of "curiosity."
"Don't you need closure?" Chava asks. "Ask Sarah why she stopped answering her texts!"
It's more like Chava's curious.
"Closure" is one of those cultural go-to terms, like "romance" and "gluten-free."
Books and movies promulgate its necessity. Cantankerous, deathbed-ridden parents realize their hurtful errors in raising their children, confess their sins and affirm their love to teary-eyed offspring, then slip from this world with a casual "I'm so tired."
Real life . . . oh, real life.
Katie Roiphe in "Dying, With Nothing Left to Say" begins how her father's sudden death robbed her of one reassurance she wished to have given him before he went.
. . . I realized that while nearly everyone has a fantasy of a “last conversation” with someone they love, very few people actually have it. It is the fantasy of resolving all conflicts, of emotional catharsis, that rarely ever comes to pass, because the habits of reticence or resentment that were there the whole time are still there, because the proximity of death does not transform personalities, or compel us to cut through to the heart of things, however much we want it to.
People are people, even when the end is nigh. Roiphe had wanted to ask her father more about his youth, but he never had been a chatty man. My paternal grandmother never opened up about her time in the camps, and would it have been fair to her to demand painful information when she craved peace?
Even the writers I was researching — people who lived in structure, plots, words — mostly did not find their way to conversations that offered a satisfying ending. They left things messy, unresolved, dangling.
The bedspread of life is not known for neat, military corners. Life is more like the impossible-to-fold fitted sheet.
Two letters, in response to this article, stuck with me:
In 2005, I picked up my mother-in-law, Mary, from the airport as she returned from vacation. I brought her to my home for some soup and then helped her load her car for her half-hour drive home. As she was stepping into her car, she turned and said, “Johnny, I tell all my friends that you are perfect.”
An hour later, my wife and I were called to the emergency room, where we found that Mary had died in a car accident.
While knowing that I am hardly perfect, I have treasured Mary’s last words ever since. Katie Roiphe suggests in her article that, with the approach of death, we anticipate the opening of a “new, honest, generous space” in which “there is a directness, an expansiveness” that can be filled with meaningful last words.
Mary showed that we can create and fill such a space with special words on any day, without knowing whether or not death is at hand.
JOHNNY WILLISSchenectady, N.Y.
We have heard it often enough: Live every day as though it is your last. Kind speech does not have to be reserved for meaningful moments. It should be an everyday habit.
While Katie Roiphe writes about people in the last hours of life, the uncomfortable reality is that we are all dying.
I am a health psychologist who studies people at the end of life. I became a bereaved daughter when I was 25 years old. These experiences taught me that the trick to “having something to say,” or those deep and meaningful conversations, come to people who are able to face their own mortality well before they are on their deathbeds.
Dying, like giving birth, is a biological event. Giving birth does not instantly turn women into excellent mothers any more than dying turns one into a wise Buddha.
If we want to have a good death, we need to invest in a good life. Look death in the eye every day, and remember that time is finite, that our loved ones will not always be here, and that the time to talk is right now.
LEEAT GRANEKTel AvivThe writer is an assistant professor and head of the gerontology and sociology of health program at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.