Malaysia Flight 370 – Time Trumps Honorable Closure

 In Grieving, Honorable Closure (HC), Widow's Notes

The other day someone asked me how families from the missing Malaysia flight could have Honorable Closure.

“It’s way too soon for that, I said.” Now is a time for shock, grief and wailing. It’s time for utter disbelief and hoping you’ll wake up to discover this has all been a bad dream.

When most of us lose someone in death, we have information, a plausible story about what happened. There was a diagnosis, needles, time spent in the hospital, then a turn for the worse. Or the police call. Or the friend your relative went fishing with delivers a shocking tale of sudden death. A narrative takes shape that is informed by reliable facts. However awful the facts are, knowing is better than not.

The families of Malaysia Flight 370 didn’t have access to the kind of data the mind yearns for. Without it we fill in the blanks by inventing scenarios, imagining the worst. Hoping for a miracle. Making bargains with God or the Devil, even if you don’t believe in either.

What an awful relief it must have been to finally be told the plane had crashed and no survivors were expected. Then the mind shifts to gut-wrenching mental pictures of what their loved ones final moments were like. Fresh questions arise with still no answers.

The press tells us of unskillful, incomplete and inaccurate communication between the Malaysian authorities and those grieving. Their anger has been robust and completely justified. (This week the Wall Street Journal reported that lack of coordination between different investigative teams set the recovery effort back three days.)

Honorable Closure will have to wait. To have it you must find forgiveness, and I hope the families can eventually do that for the sake of their own well-being. Months, or years, from now, perhaps they will discern that everyone involved did the best they could. That it was such an unprecedented mystery that people were overwhelmed with how to approach it, and obviously undone by the complexity of organizing and satisfying so many political interests at once. Yes, there is incompetence, stupidity, insensitivity, and arrogance. But it’s too early to forgive all of that. Now is a time for tears, righteous indignation, disbelief, and medically supervised pharmaceuticals.

My friend asks me what I would do if one of the family members came to me now. I say, “Take your time, and sit with them in their grief. Some things can’t be fixed, only held and eventually accepted. We aren’t in control and life is a delicate, risky business. People who live with that in mind are truly blessed.”

I’d advise anyone in this situation to get grief counseling and find healthy ways to express their anger, which will get tangled up in the grief and arise in waves for months and years to come. Allow your community to look after you and keep an eye on your well-being. See a doctor. I’d assure them it will get easier, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.

In the first few months after my husband died, I was plagued by memories of his last week in the hospital. The doctors recommended a course of treatment that I didn’t feel good about, so I lobbied for another approach, which the doctors agreed to. Bob died two weeks later; I couldn’t help thinking that if I’d gone with the original recommendation, he would have lived. I was plagued with guilt that rattled me awake in the wee hours of the night.

These recurring thoughts drove me to see a grief counselor. With help and time I came to see the folly of my thinking and have compassion for everyone involved. One practice that helped me let go of these thoughts was to direct my thinking away from reliving the past and back to the present moment, the Eternal Now. I’d notice my breath and say to myself: in this moment, Bob is not suffering. So, my recommendation would be for those in grief to do the same. Take a breath and come back to the present. Grief is enough without compounding it with afflictive thoughts.

My friend asks one last question: How will they know it’s time for Honorable Closure?

When the weight of being angry gets too heavy too carry and the shock of loss subsides. Time will show.

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