Closure

16 06 2010

What an odd word and an even stranger concept.

I was listening to the Today Programme on my way to the station this morning and the discussion centered around The report of the Saville Enquiry into the Bloody Sunday shootings. Several people who were there at the time or who had been involved in the process of reconciliation since were asked whether the publication of th ereport could provide closure for those whose loved ones were killed in 1972.

I had been thinking about the concept of closure and how you could possibly hope to recover from such a violent and unexpected change to your life following the recent shootings in Cumbria. Closure for those left in the wake of the Cumbria murders cannot be achieved by the burial of their loved ones and clearly this ritual did not in any way constitute closure in Northern Ireland in the early 70’s.

So, is closure about finding an answer to shocking, dramatic and unexpected events? In 1972 thousands took to the streets in a Civil Rights march and hundreds were caught up in the violence and 13 people never returned home, having been shot by British soldiers. The heightened stress that soldiers will have felt in the atmosphere of fear, distrust and hatred in 1970’s Northern Ireland is well documented but is insufficient explanation or excuse for the decisions that the soldiers and their commanders took in opening fire on unarmed civilians. The investigation should shed light on who fired, when and why. It has taken 12 years of the Saville Enquiry and almost 40 years of campaigning and protest from those directly affected by the killings to get close to answering these questions.

But even if the answers found are clear cut and accepted across all off the communities involved, will that be sufficient to allow closure? I suspect not, and that prosecutions will be sought and prison sentences given to those who fired the fatal shots before closure will be achieved. Answers and punishment for the guilty are probably what most people are looking to establish before a tragic event can considered to be closed.

And so to the events in Cumbria. How can we possibly know what was going on in the head of the killer? We can  guess at what drove him to kill those he knew but what of the victims selected apparently at random? If the killer himself appeared to have no reason how can we possibly get answers for the loved ones of the victims? And with the killer dead any retribution that society may have deemed to be appropriate cannot be administered.  So if we accept that closure comes from answers and punishment then how can you achieve closure here?

And if closure is attained in this way, is it lasting?  What about when the guilty are released? The mother of Lesley Ann Downey, victim of Moors Murderers in the 1960’s, often stated that the only reason she lived was to kill Myra Hindley if she was ever released from prison. So is the death sentence for killers the answer?

In the Zen Buddhist tradition there is encouragement to live in the moment. The past cannot be changed and the future cannot be guaranteed so let go of the agonies of the past and don’t worry about what the future might bring.

Perhaps, in that context, closure is the answering of sufficient questions for us to be able to put aside the wrongs of the past and to get on with living our lives…to not let an event, however awful, define us.  From the moment that Lesley Ann Downey was killed her mother became defined by that event. It consumed her. It became her life to the exclusion of everything else. With the killing of Lesley her mothers life ended too.  I know two women who were widowed tragically early and very suddenly. One is a widow and has lived her life in the shadow of that event. The other is a woman getting on with the rest of her life.

I hope that the survivors of the soldiers actions and those whose lives have been suddenly and tragically affected by the killings in Cumbria do find enough closure to allow them to continue with their lives and not forever be defined by these events forever.

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