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Is ‘closure’ possible?

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Posted: Monday, March 26, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 9:11 am, Tue Jan 28, 2014.

John and Terri Vanderheiden had waited 14 years to bring their daughter, Cyndi Vanderheiden, back to their home in Clements.

They had waited 14 years to be able to hug her, to welcome her back, to tell her they loved her.

When the Vanderheidens found out their daughter's remains had been found half-buried on a slope near serial killer Wesley Shermantine Jr.'s former home in San Andreas, their hope was shattered.

Cyndi Vanderheiden was not coming home alive.

But the Vanderheidens turned their sights on bringing at least some part of their daughter home.

On early Friday morning, the Vanderheidens drove to a local crematory and found their daughter's remains waiting for them.

She now sits by her parents' bedside.

For John Vanderheiden, Cyndi's father, having his daughter home is bittersweet.

"It does give me some sense of closure," he said. "Ideally not what I wanted, bringing her home was bittersweet. But we do have her back on some level now."

Closure — is it what the Vanderheidens and dozens of others have been looking for since serial killers Wesley Shermantine Jr. and Loren Herzog began taking lives nearly two decades ago?

What is closure, and does it exist?

Whether it is emotional or physical, therapists say the term closure is used loosely because everyone comes to term with death in a different way.

Some move on after someone has died, others reminisce about the event for years. But more so, coping with death is like "a fingerprint," according to counselors, and even though someone is gone, it does not mean an emotional connection with them is lost.

Dealing with a death

Carrie Lane said "closure" is not a word she would use to describe someone who is dealing with a death.

Closure is a term that was popularized in the 1990s as a phrase used by psychologists to describe a person's need to find a definitive solution to a loss or a breakdown as opposed to dealing with some sense of "what if?"

Lane, the bereavement manager for Hospice of San Joaquin, said the word "closure" implies that someone is simply going to be done with all their emotions, questions and concerns and just never look back at what happened, be it a death, a breakup, etc.

"You don't close the door," she said. "And you don't necessarily 'get over it.' You are instead getting through it. You are healing or reconciling the loss."

But being able to get through a traumatic event is not always automatic.

Lane said it could take anywhere from days to years for someone to come into her office and sit down and talk about what they have lost.

And while a majority of people are uncomfortable talking about their personal struggles with strangers, Lane said she and others tend to want to get to know a person before they begin to talk about problems they are dealing with.

It is about getting people to tell their story, and being able to express their mixture of memories and emotions that helps people usually cope.

Lane added that the age-old concept of grieving in stages is just that — old.

She said it is old-fashioned to have "grief in stages," and that implies that once you begin a stage that you move through it.

Grief is more circular, like a roller coaster, Lane said. She calls that model "the grief wheel."

"I don't like (closure) as a word," said Anna Winn, a licensed clinical social worker in Lodi. "It is as if you are shutting the door on that person and wiping them away from your life. You just have a different relationship with them now."

Methods of coping

Just like addressing the loss of a loved one, coping with that loss is also very individual.

Winn said the first thing to remember is that crying is always okay.

She added that patients will come in to see her and they will have allowed their feelings to be buried, and as a result they grow into something more concerning, like depression.

"Crying is encouraged, in fact," she said. "It is OK to let it out. It is good self care. What is dangerous is allowing yourself to bottle it up."

Winn said the coping process for some can be made easier by making your sadness, your frustration or your disbelief, more tangible.

Writing in a journal or creating a scrapbook of a lost loved one has worked for some, Winn said. Others prefer to continue to celebrate a birthday by buying a birthday cake or by going out to dinner on an anniversary.

For those who have been searching for loved ones for years, like those families whose loved ones fell victim to Shermantine and Loren Herzog, remains are a crucial part of dealing with their loss.

But for others, having remains are not needed. A more emotional sense of moving forward is needed.

But what about everyday life?

At first, Winn said life will be hard. There will be emptiness, a sense of uncertainty as to what is missing.

Finding a place or a thing that makes you happy, however, is key.

Winn said some people find solace in places like a dog park, where just for a couple of minutes, all the sadness and grief goes away.

Others begin to move on by one day putting on makeup after months of sitting in their homes in the same pair of sweatpants, never really going out.

Some go slow, others go fast.

"I wish there was a light bulb moment," Lane said. "Sometimes a person comes in once and that is sufficient, but for most people its two steps forward and one step back."

The biggest thing that people must realize, however, is that they should not feel guilty that they are still alive.

Whether it is through therapeutic prayer or painting, people need to realize that while death is hard, and while it hurts, your life is still important too, Lane said.

"It is in moments of smiles and laughter where people break through the grief and they start to have those moments of feeling ok with (being alive)," Lane said.

Going forward

As families attempt to cope with loss, they begin to move forward as well.

Days turn to weeks, weeks into months. But the memories of their mother, daughter, son or father live on.

For those who have been victims of Wesley Shermantine, Jr. and his accomplice Loren Herzog, the grieving process has gone hand in hand with trying to learning to do daily tasks like the dishes, making dinner or going to work.

For them, finding the remains of their loved ones is an almost necessary part of the coping process.

Paula and Raymond Wheeler relocated to Tennessee from Stockton, where their 16-year-old daughter Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler disappeared in 1985.

Her remains were also found at Shermantine's property, near Vanderheiden's.

Terri Vanderheiden continues to work at the same bank she worked at since her daughter disappeared. John Vanderheiden still runs his bar, "The Office," in Lockeford.

But the families do not go a day without thinking about their daughters, whose remains are now back safely with their families.

"Sometimes remains are needed to say 'OK, I understand,'" said Winn. "This is what I need."

Contact reporter Katie Nelson at katien@lodinews.com.

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1 comment:

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 7:40 pm on Mon, Mar 26, 2012.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    I don't like (closure) as a word," said Anna Winn, a licensed clinical social worker in Lodi. "It is as if you are shutting the door on that person and wiping them away from your life. You just have a different relationship with them now."

    I so much agree with the above... to me, the relationship is only different and never ends. If you look at the show Americans most wanted, John Walsh whose son died in a murder, dedicated his life to doing something to prevent this tragedy from happening to others. His relationship with his son Adam was different and did not end.
    I am sure Terri and John Vanderheiden will continue to honor what their wonderful daughter brought to this world and will have a strong relationship with their daughter forever because love never ends.



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