Recently I was asked to write an article on whether the death penalty provided “closure” for families of victims. Closure, I believe, is a concept that in part evolved from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ famous five steps, the fifth step being acceptance.
Over the years I have sat with people who suffered unimaginable losses and judged themselves because they had not “accepted” the loss. I have also sat with parents who suffered the most unimaginable loss of all — the death of a child.
I grew up in a family in which children died. Did my parents ever “accept” those losses? I don’t think so. I don’t think the pain of those losses ever left my parents. Similarly, in trying to counsel with people who have lost children, I don’t think the goal has ever been “acceptance” or “closure”.
Recently I was told that a referral was made to me of a woman who had lost a child. I asked another friend who had lost a son “What can I tell her?” He paraphrased something he’d heard in a movie titled Wind River. He said “Tell her the pain never goes away. But tell her also that, if she can learn to walk with the pain, she gets to keep the good memories.”
To walk with the pain. This to me is a far better idea than either “closure” or “acceptance”. How can the pain of losing a child ever go away? It can’t. Granted I have known some parents who tried to avoid that pain but those same parents would also complain that they were having trouble remembering the good times. I have also known parents who learned to walk with the pain. In the midst of their tears, they are also able to smile over a good memory.
My own parents didn’t have memories to cherish since my sisters died as infants. But, as they learned to walk with the pain, they were able to envision a joyous reunion. Given that they are both gone, I like to think that the reunion happened for them.
What can I say to someone who has lost a child? Nothing that eases their pain. But perhaps there is some value in having a companion to walk with them as they learn to walk with the pain.
Further Viewing: Wind River is a very good but very violent film. This excerpt is the one referred to above by my friend.