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Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Recently, the Boston media announced that it was a citizen’s tip that led to the arrest of a sports utility driver who killed a graduate student in a hit-and-run accident about three months ago. The victim’s brother said,” I am happy about the arrest. It will not bring my brother back but at least it will help us reach some closure.” My question is this: can the arrest of the culprit really bring “closure” to the family at all?

In psychological sense, the term “closure” has a long history, and comes from the Gestalt school in Germany which was concerned with the organization of mental processes. It was actually Max Wertheimer who, in 1923, coined the term, and now is part of our ordinary language.

I do not really understand the concept of “closure,” for it implies that one can simply whitewash memories of a sad event. I don’t think that is possible. We can understand and often accept the death of a person who lived a long and fulfilling life, but there is an element of unfairness when we lose someone in a tragic way. The more horrific the event, the deeper our anger and grief. I don’t think parents can ever get over their pain when they bury a child; this becomes even worse when it happens as a result of a senseless killing. There was an outrage in Israel, mid-February, when the newly appointed Jordanian minister of Justice, Hussein Mjali, called for the release from an Israeli prison of Ahmed Dakamseh, a Jordanian soldier, who had murdered seven Israeli school girls and injured six others near the Israeli-Jordanian border in 1997. I can empathize with the anger of the Israeli citizens over this insensitive request.

Total closure, I maintain, does not exist. The Talmud says, “only after twelve months does one begin to forget the dead (Ber. 58b). The impact of the event, however, stays with us for many years to come. Does that mean that we cannot go on living? Yes, we can and often do, and with progressively diminished pain and anguish in our hearts. If we are fortunate, with time, we can experience the softening of the edges of our grief, slowly and haltingly. No, there is no such thing as closure. There is only the dulling of the pain, and most of us go on living because we have fewer choices. Fortunate are those sufferers who have the support of family and friends who can empathize with them during their ordeal, and help them move forward through the path of life.

May God spare us of these kinds of pain, and give us the strength to help those who are going through the valley of the shadow.

Rifat Sonsino
Feb. 2011

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