This piece has been a difficult one to write:
Days ago, when revisiting the RGS campus, I went by the DnT Lab for what became a conversation of 3.5h with Mr Asman. Somewhere in between, he had shared that sometimes, “the more you want to get something, the more you wouldn’t get it.” This one is about the closure I have been seeking from the latest episode of JC and how he is absolutely right.
Rather than attending the Graduation Night’s put-together of well-dressed schoolmates in a fancy hotel, that night was spent with a classmate close to heart, by the sea, in search of the silly thing called ‘closure’. We had hoped for spoken word poetry, letter-writing and silent star-gazing to be avenues of reflection about the past 2 years – part of the plan was to write on a piece of paper the “People we have loved dearly” and “People who have brought us great pain” in these 2 years, roll it up into a scroll and place it in a small glass bottle. I suppose, from the act, we had hoped that memories of the pain and sorrow that had been brought would be taken away with the scroll. This was how ‘closure’ was supposed to work (it did, in our heads), but to today, the memories with these people remain as vivid as before and I can remember every detail of our memories with great clarity. Everything, every single thing, remains crystal clear.
I recently read an online article that viewed the concept of closure with skepticism, “because our life isn’t a dry erase board, it’s a concrete sidewalk, where the cement is always wet, so people will walk through it and their footprints will remain.” As much as I wish to believe that I have put behind the memories of people who have brought me pain (sometimes unintentionally), they remain so much a part of me, enduring through time. It is as if these memories have moved forward with me, rather than having been left behind while I moved on. In my holiday read The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz, psychologist Dr. Grosz describes closure as “delusive” for it is the false hope that we can deaden our living grief. It is a reflection of our desire to permanently end the feeling of grief and recover from it.
In his chapter titled “Going Back”, he talks about the birthday trip he had organized for his father’s 80th birthday, bringing him back to his hometown, Hungary. Over time, the names of places had changed and boundaries had shifted, so the itinerary had to be planned carefully in order to trace back the exact locations of his father’s childhood memories. Upon visiting various locations (his grammar school, his grandparents’ farm and the surrounding countryside), his father would walk around in silence, insist the place found was wrong and refuse to delve into any conversation about his memories (contrary to what was hoped for). The author recounts that he hadn’t understood the silence. Instead, he was frustrated because he felt that his efforts at planning the trip had gone unappreciated. One day, after his cousin’s death, Dr. Grosz was on a phone call recounting his cousin’s life along with another cousin of his. They mentioned the Nazis and Auschwitz, amongst other things. At the end of the phone call, his daughter who had overheard the conversation shot him questions about the Nazis that left him absolutely speechless. In his words, “(he had) found (himself) struggling to find the right words. Then, (he) saw in (himself), and now recognized in (his) father, the desire to keep such horror from (his) children.”
I see parallels between his father’s and Dr. Grosz’s desire to leave memories of the painful past unpacked and my own in my delusion of closure – both of which are avoidance of pain that can easily be revisited with memories that never fade the way we wish they would. The notion of closure has its roots in the works of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1960, where she identified 5 psychological stages in the experience of terminally ill patients: the last of which is acceptance. However, I refer to Dr. Grosz’s analysis in arriving at the conclusion that the psychological stages of ‘dying’ and ‘grieving’ should not be confused – there is no end to the person who mourns as he goes on living and for as long as he lives, there is always, always the possibility of feeling grief.
With that said, it is in my hopes that I courageously embrace painful memories to be part of myself and learn to adopt hope and optimism as cure to the suffering they brought and continue to bring. Between a painful truth and a lie too absurd, I’d prefer to live with the truth.