Many of us come to learn about the idea of closure at some point in our lives. Whether suffering through the end of a relationship, a tragic event or losing a loved one, we are advised to find “closure.” So, as we try to go about our grieving process, we can’t seem to tune out the voices of others or those in our heads saying, ‘get over it,’ ‘let it go,’ or ‘it’s time to move on.’ The fallacy of closure.
The idea of closure is something that many expats are familiar with. Except that closure is a common misconception, whereas grief is the process they face and must learn how to manage indefinitely.
When people leave their home country for an extended period, they may wonder if they will ever come back to visit all the places and people they’ve left behind. They may face loss while away or return feeling disconnected from their home.
The fallacy of closure for expats and how it affects those who have experienced loss through repatriation or living abroad.
It can cause feelings of guilt.
The belief in closure can lead to guilt when returning after so much time away from family and friends. Many expats report feeling guilty for deciding to leave, especially if it means leaving loved ones behind.
It interferes with one’s grieving process.
Given the feelings of guilt that often come with expatriate life, it can be complicated to process loss. When expats leave their home country, it is natural that they will experience a form of expat grief and loss, whether it’s the loss of a loved one or a sense of loss of their homeland.
Some may be confronted with even more guilt if they lose someone, believing that they cost that person emotional pain in the time that they’ve been away. In this regard, the fallacy of closure can make one feel rushed or forced to accept their choices and grief.
It can affect one’s experience and overall happiness.
Often, expats feel disconnected from their home country because they’re no longer living there and therefore no longer experiencing the changes happening back at home. They may struggle to know where to focus their energy and attention, finding it hard to find a balance between their expat life and home life.
Constantly feeling torn or unable to be present gets in the way of their happiness. However, the concept of closure may convey to them that their focus has to be on one or the other; this is not the case.
There are ways to cope with expat grief, to grieve the loss of a home country and the relationships you formed there without feeling forced to let go entirely. Because, for one, the fallacy of closure or the concept of letting go of pain or grief doesn’t exist for most people. Sociologist Nancy Berns paints this concept more clearly by explaining that the notion of closure only promises false hopes.
Secondly, grief and loss is not a black and white process — no one’s grieving process looks the same as another’s, and there is no order of stages that one must follow for some predetermined amount of time — and that includes “closure.”
Getting support from an expat psychologist
No matter what your unique situation looks like, it is normal to experience grief and loss in several ways living abroad. As an expat psychologist, I can help you manage your feelings and learn to live with grief rather than trying to let it go.
Those looking to dive further into this topic to understand grief and find healing in their own time might consider reading Berns’ book, Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What it Costs Us.
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Gabriela Encina is an online psychologist specialized in expat women and supports them with the guidance and tools they need to feel confident, make the best decisions for their lives, build and maintain meaningful relationships and prioritize their well-being.
Her approach is practical, solution-oriented and focused on the present.
Gabriela offers counseling to expat women in Spanish, English and German.