With the announcement that Jacob Wetterling has been found deceased, and authorities led to the remains by a suspect in the case, we have already heard the word “closure” used quite a bit. Some families of long-term missing and murdered persons have voiced discomfort with the way that this word is used, as it sometimes seems to convey a set of expectations about the family’s response to knowing what happened to their loved one.
“Closure” only means that the ambiguity of not knowing what happened to your loved one is ended. Closure says nothing about whether or not a person is prepared for the ending of the ambiguity. It doesn’t say anything about the possibility that the ambiguity allowed for a person to cling to the idea of a different possible outcome, and there might be severe grief when that ambiguity is removed and replaced with certainty.
Popular use of the word “closure” can imply that the end of ambiguity is the end of the story. And for some of the helpers in missing person’s cases, that is true. The job of the investigators and the searchers is to find out what happened to the loved one. To remove ambiguity and provide certainty, and give the prosecutors what they need to pursue justice. When they give the family “closure”, they should feel a sense of completion.
But we have heard from other families who have gone through similar circumstances, popular use of the word “closure” can be a huge burden. When someone says the word “closure” to them, it can convey a sense that the speaker believes that they should now feel complete. Anyone who has lost a loved one can tell you that you do not feel complete the moment you learn a loved one is deceased.
Every individual and family is unique, and processes grief, fear, sorrow differently. Every individual releases hope for a reunion in this life differently, and the hope for reunion in a future life may be a comfort or may not, depending on the individual
Executive Director Teresa Lhotka says,
“When Jacob was kidnapped, Minnesotans reached out and took him into their hearts. In a way, he became everyone’s child, and in a way his story and his family’s story became everyone’s story. It’s important right now to remember who this story really belongs to, and to let them own it. Let’s give this family space and peace and quiet from the outside, and take a breath. As a public, we want to make meaning out of this. However, let’s remember that Jacob belongs first and foremost to his family. Let’s take a step back and wait before we speak, especially let’s wait before we claim ‘closure’ for them, whatever our understanding of the word.”
Jacob’s family has a long road ahead of them. There is a lot more that they are going to face going forward, and much of it will need to be in the public eye. As much as we the public feel like we need to know what happened, and want to see justice done, let’s remember to make space for this family and to support them by waiting until they speak, and listening and responding to what they say. Let’s be very careful, in this time when they need privacy, to not write their script for them.