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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.

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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.

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