“What we do not know about a missing loved one,” the poet T.S. Eliot said, “becomes all that we know.”
On Sunday, January 28, 2007, during a short solo sailing trip to the Farallon Islands near San Francisco to scatter his mother’s ashes, Jim Gray (a prominent computer scientist) and his 40-foot yacht, Tenacious, were reported missing by his wife, Donna Carnes. He never returned. His wife had to deal with questions upon questions, his boat and body never found.
After listening to The Myth of Closure podcast (On Being, interview with Pauline Boss), we realize these kinds of stories make us reconsider closure. It makes us reconsider that maybe this goal is not one to pursue. We erroneously think that with the right amount of facts, we may close a door; that maybe we can resume into normalcy just as before. But after listening to this podcast, I am reconsidering this assumption.
Here are my takeaways from Pauline-She writes/speaks about ambiguous loss–when you’ve lost the person, but they’re still there (like with divorce, immigration, a missing child, or Alzheimer’s disease). Or any loss with many questions.
While “closure” is a nice word in business deals and transactions, it is not very relevant in relationships. It is not relevant in grief. Pauline Boss encourages that we must let go of “fixing” and search for the re-calibration that helps us learn to hold loss in our midst. There is no denying loss; no way to mandate or customize the hurt.
We must not accept that even without closure, we can attach meaning. It is attaching meaning (even if the circumstances seem meaningless) that brings hope. We must let go of perfect answers.
We can pursue meaningful perceptions because they are real in their consequences.
Relationships in life are not mere doors to be closed. People are more than that- absence, intended or unintended, stays with us; within us.Grief is part of life that lingers. It is in the background. It never dissolves completely. It is the testament to what is meaningful.
Jim’s wife wrote years after his disappearance on the water, “Walk On.”
“You walk on still beside me, eyes shadowed in dusk. You’re the lingering question at each day’s end. I have to laugh at how open-ended you remain, still with me after all these years of being lost. I carry you like my own personal time machine, as I put on my lipstick, smile, and head out to the party.”