Close out ‘closure’

There was a time a century ago when journalists stealing pictures of crime victims from their families was the stereotype of insensitive reporters.

More recently, it was reporters putting microphones in front of the victims of the tragedy of the moment and asking, “How do you feel?”

Both of those practices, thankfully, have mostly passed. We thought, after a spate of pleas from families of crime victims, that the use of the word “closure” had also passed. Yet there it was on the front page of the April 27 Reno Gazette Journal: “Family receives closure.”

For a decade or two, journalists have seized on the psychobabble word and demanded of family members of murdered people whether they had received “closure” from verdicts or sentences or executions. It is a term that grates on the sensibilities of people suffering from terrible losses, and they have asked time and again for journalists to knock it off.

If the closure question were asked for some legitimate newsgathering purpose, there might be some merit to it, but it is not. The answer is usually known in advance: For someone who has lost a loved one, the only way to gain closure is to have that loved one back again alive and well.

Sue Carter and Bonnie Bucqueroux of Michigan State’s Victims and the Media Program have written: “Victims who have had a chance to think about their experience often have strong feelings about ‘loaded’ words such as victim, survivor and closure … Many victims bristle at being asked if they have achieved closure—the implication is that they are a failure if they say no, and many would argue that you may someday forgive but will never forget.”

If journalists don’t want to listen to academics, they can at least listen to crime victims.

Sandy Sharp of Families of Murder Victims, a group based in Las Vegas: “Don’t use the word ‘closure,’ either. There is never closure when you have had such a loss.”

Vicki Schieber, whose daughter was the victim of a serial rapist/murderer: “The word ‘closure’ is invoked so frequently in discussions of victims and the death penalty that victims’ family members jokingly refer to it as ‘the c word.’ But I can tell you with all seriousness that there is no such thing as closure when a violent crime rips away the life of someone dear to you.”

The sentiments of victims about the word were particularly pronounced after the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Jim Denny: “There’ll never be closure. There’ll always be this deep, deep hurt.”

Darlene Welch: “There is no such thing as closure for people who lost family in the bombing. The only closure is when they close the lid on my casket.”

New York City police lieutenant Phil Panzarella has said, “It’s an invented word. It means nothing to no one. If you’re born on October 21, October 21 comes every year. It’s your birthday. Do you think because we captured somebody and convicted them that no one’s ever going to think about their murdered daughter on her birthday? And then comes Christmas, and then comes New Year’s, anniversaries. What closure is there? It’s a silly word.”