It happened. It hurt. And now you’re left wondering if you’ll ever be happy again. Closure, you think to yourself, is what you need to move on and start rebuilding everything you’ve lost. There are different ways to accomplish this, but how does one know that he or she has truly gotten over someone or something and found this so-called “closure”?
[closure1] “Closure is the final step in accepting unwanted, sometimes traumatic life changes,” Dr. Doug Ruben, a therapist and national consultant on family therapy, addictions and media psychology, of Okemos said. “Achievement of closure is a gradual process, never a ‘FedEx overnight’ change. It requires passing through three main transitional stages, whether dealing with a death or end of a partner relationship.”
Ruben explained there are several steps involved when dealing with closure. First is grief over losing or leaving something familiar. Second is the fear of facing uphill and unexpected challenges that will require adjustments. Third is using memories of the bad situation (death, trauma and the relationship) as education for handling similar future situations. But if it’s as easy as one, two, three — why are so many people still haunted by past sorrows?
This may be because we never get permanent closure, but instead reach a solution to get past miseries. “Closure is easier when a person ‘moves on’ along a scary journey of the unknown,” Ruben said.
Mark Drake, criminal justice senior, has spent an entire year trying to find the closure he needs.
In March 2004, his fiancée, Joanna Russ, was killed when a truck hit her car on Dort Highway in Flint, Mich.
“It was during spring break of last year,” Drake said. “We were supposed to go off to Canada. The day before, I went to work and she was going to baby-sit some friends’ children. She left her subdivision and was in a car accident that killed her.”
His fiancée, Russ, was a sophomore at Central Michigan University, studying psychology with a specialization in children with developmental disorders. Drake’s loss was devastating.
[closure2] Drake said the two had the kind of relationship where it didn’t matter what they did as long as they were together. “Once we got engaged, eventually we started looking at the bigger picture of things,” Drake said. “Planning our lives together, we planned on getting married after getting our bachelors degrees and starting a job where we could have benefits and not have to worry about deviating from our plans if we had not come together.
“I have spent a year trying to find closure,” Drake said. “Yet, I really didn’t understand just what it was that I was looking for. Today, however, I know I have it.”
Drake said closure for him really isn’t a final conclusion or ending, but an event itself.
“I have so many friends, especially at the college age that are in and out of relationships,” he said. “I’ve come across so many people who are just like, ‘I can’t move on with my life because I just haven’t achieved this closure yet that I’ve been looking for.’ The interesting thing is that when people are generally hung up on that, it’s not really the closure they’re having the trouble with, because closure in itself is the event.”
He also said the hardest thing is trying to accept closure, because so often, like in Drake’s case, there are many questions left unanswered and unsettled feelings. “So, in actuality, you’re really not trying to get closure, you’re trying to get this acceptance of what’s really happened in your life,” Drake said. “So you get hung up, because you wish you could change it. Especially when you’re not the one that made the call.”
Accepting reality may be what closure is, but it may also mean different things to different people. When it comes to the death of a partner, spouse or a loved one, Ruben says it is a brutal war of mind over matter.
[closure3] “We feel the person is gone, but our mind keeps them alive,” Ruben said. “Closure for death is like closure for relationships. It never happens neatly and permanently. Memories of the deceased linger favorably amid daily situations so often paired with that person. Malls, restaurants, grocery stores, the bedroom, vacation spots, even driving in vehicles – all present shadows of the deceased person as if he or she was alive.
Ruben said these shadows never fade but that they blend into a bigger picture of one’s life and re-emerge at certain times, especially on special occasions and holidays. “Closure is the process of memories in remission; but these memories never cease, they just stay in layaway until you call them out again.”
However, death isn’t the only type of closure college students must face throughout their lives. Closure from relationships that are over is another aspect many of us tend to struggle with. “Romantic relationships in college are the first of many ‘rites of passage’ students experience,” Ruben said. “But what happens when these relationships deteriorate? Lies, deceptions, infidelity, incompatibility, non-communication, or just plain boredom – all of these reasons spoil the love-magnet that hypnotically attracted two partners. Some people call off the relationship, and some just let it die a slow death until each partner stops contact.”
He also said one way to help get closure from a relationship is sharing the ups and downs of the relationship. “You’re not ending the relationship on a sour note, you’re thanking the partner for teaching you about yourself and advancing your knowledge about meaningful and caring friendship,” Ruben said.
On the contrary, there are still “guilt-traps,” as Ruben calls them, that come into the picture during the aftermath of a relationship that has ended. The three instances to steer clear of are feeling as if you’ve caused your partner emotional damage, calling them constantly because you feel they are the only ones that truly understand you and being convinced you will remain friends. “You are never friends after being lovers,” Ruben said. “The more he talks to you as a ‘friend’ about his new lovers, the more your jealousy kicks into overdrive. You’ll wonder why is she better than me, and suddenly question your physical appearance, love potential and value to people.”
[quo] Renee Archambault, theater senior at Saginaw Valley State University, said not having closure on a past relationship has affected her future relationships.
“Yes, I think closure is necessary for future relationships,” Archambault said. “I do not have closure with an ex-boyfriend. This is because he has been a key figure in my life for four years, regardless if we are dating or not. Part of me really wants us to be over for good, put the other part finds comfort in knowing he’ll always be around, if I like it or not. Having this ex around is affecting any possible new relationships either of us might have.”
For Archambault, finding her closure is never looking or going back. “Like when I know the door is shut and it may be ok, or it may not. Whatever the event or relationship was, it is now over.”
Drake agrees that when a relationship is over, there is always a sense of bitterness that lingers. “So, how do you heal from something that cannot be sewn back together? You treat it,” Drake said. “Ignoring a cut doesn’t make the bleeding stop any faster or the pain lessen any sooner, so why would you expect different results with emotional wounds? But just like physical wounds, emotional wounds will heal in time and leave you with scars. The scars that remain remind us of what we have overcome and what has made us into who we are today.”
It takes time to heal any wound, especially those of the heart. Closure, whether it exists as concretely as we’d like, can be found. While those like Mark Drake will never forget a lost loved one or relationship, time eases pain and with enough of it, life can become beautiful again.

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