Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Balance

Font Size

Coping With Closure

What is closure and is it really achievable en masse or even personally?

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 2, 2006 -- Is closure going to see the new 9/11 feature film United 93 and finally being able to face what happened to loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001?

Is closure watching the Zacharias Moussaoui verdict unfold and perhaps seeing the conspirator executed? Moussaoui is currently the only person in the United States to have been charged in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.

Recommended Related to Mind, Body, Spirit

12 Ways to Destress Amidst Holiday Madness

By Melody WarnickEmploy these easy reenergizing techniques when you need them most this season   The most wonderful time of the year, huh? So why do the holidays sometimes feel like a month-long panic attack? "During the holidays, people have such high expectations for things to be perfect," says Jon Abramowitz, PhD, professor of psychology and director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Clinic at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In other words, we take on too much, then feel anxious...

Read the 12 Ways to Destress Amidst Holiday Madness article > >

Or for the family of the missing Aruban teen Natalee Holloway, is closure finding her body and getting a confession?

Is closure having that final conversation or run-in with an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend where you both are open and honest about what went right -- and wrong -- in your relationship?

Closure can be all of the above or none of the above, experts tell WebMD.

"Closure is something that allows you to close one chapter and to move on with some resolution," explains Barbara O. Rothbaum, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry and the director of the Trauma and Anxiety Recovery Program at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Whether or not it is something that is actually attainable depends on how you define closure, she says. "Is it being able to find some peace and move on? Then it's possible," she says. "Is it feeling like 'OK, it's over, the person has been caught and punished', then I think it's possible," she says. But "something like 9-11 is hard because you don't have a ritual like a funeral, which is meant to give closure."

For example, "part of the Jewish funeral tradition involves having the mourners throw dirt on the descending coffin, which is very painful, yet very therapeutic" she says. "There is no denying that person is dead and in the ground" and that is closure.

Closure Can Be Symbolic, Personal

But "with 9-11, so many people were not found and we couldn't bury them and go through all the processes to get closure," she says. In these cases, closure can be achieved on an individual basis for some, she says, "If a person feels that they need a burial, then it will be hard, but closure may be able to be achieved symbolically," she says.

Decide what is meaningful to you, she suggests. "Sometimes it is just doing a ceremony on your own or having a memorial service," she says, "Burn something or bury something. Do whatever will help you find meaning and go on," she says. "So often closure is trying to make sense of a senseless situation and asking yourself what does it take to get through it, so it doesn't haunt you every day?"

For some, closure may come in the form of visiting the Freedom Tower, the symbolic skyscraper designed to replace the destroyed World Trade Center. For others, it may involve seeing United 93, the first feature film to deal explicitly with the events of Sept. 11. Wounds may still be too fresh for this movie. When previews of the movie began showing, some audience members screamed, "Too soon!" In fact, in New York City, a theater actually pulled the trailer after several complaints. The movie opened at No. 3 at the box office this weekend, behind the family comedy RV starring Robin Williams, suggesting that many Americans may actually be looking for an escape more than a revisiting of the horrific events.

Today on WebMD

Hands breaking pencil in frustration
Dark chocolate bars
teen napping with book over face
concentration killers
man reading sticky notes
worried kid
Hungover man
Woman opening window
Woman yawning
Health Check
Happy and sad faces
brain food
laughing family