A Better Way to Grieve?

January 31, 2010

Every once is a while, we hear a fresh, more realistic, explanation of the grieving process.  An article in the January 31, 2010 issue of The New Yorker Magazine provides just that.  I’ve written about this before, and since then haven’t heard much more worth repeating until now.

Here’s a well-written summary of the article from Diane Sollee, Director of Smart Marriages:

Fantastic, very helpful overview of the latest books and research attempting to make sense out of the grief phenomenon – concluding that it’s less about neatly packaged stages (Kubler Ross) and more of an amazing undulating process “with a level of fluctuation that is nothing short of spectacular.”

Also, that:  “A 2007 study . . .  found that the feeling that predominated in the bereaved subjects was NOT depression or disbelief or anger but YEARNING.  “. . .  drawing on work by John Bowlby,  an early theorist of how human beings form attachments, noted that [in grief] we feel alarm because we no longer have a support system we relied on. . . . .  we continue to search illogically (and in great distress) for a loved one after a death.  After failing again and again to find the lost person, we slowly create a new assumptive world, in the therapist’s jargon, the old one having been invalidated by death. Searching, or yearning, crops up in nearly all the contemporary investigations of grief.  (Which fits this passage, one of my favorite on grief) from Christopher Buckley’s book, written about his grief following the death of his mother and father, in close order:

It comes in waves. One moment you’re doing fine, living your life, even perhaps feeling some sort of primal sense of liberation . . .  Then in the next instant, boom, there it is. It has various ways of presenting, as doctors say of disease.  Sometimes it comes in the form of a black hole inside you, sucking the rest of you into it; at other times it is a sense of disconnection, as if you had been holding your mother’s hand in a crowd and suddenly she let go.)

And, back to the New Yorker article:

“Perhaps the stage theory of grief caught on so quickly because it made loss sound controllable. The trouble is that it turns out largely to be a fiction, based more on anecdotal observation than empirical evidence. Though Kübler-Ross captured the range of emotions that mourners experience, new research suggests that grief and mourning don’t follow a checklist; they’re complicated and untidy processes, less like a progression of stages and more like an ongoing process‹sometimes one that never fully ends. Perhaps the most enduring psychiatric idea about grief, for instance, is the idea that people need to “let go” in order to move on; yet studies have shown that some mourners hold on to a relationship with the deceased with no notable ill effects. (In China, mourners regularly speak to dead ancestors, and one study has shown that the bereaved there suffer less long-term distress than bereaved Americans do.)  At the end of her life, Kübler-Ross herself recognized how far astray our understanding of grief had gone.  In “On Grief and Grieving,” she insisted that the stages were “never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages.”  If her injunction went unheeded, perhaps it is because the messiness of grief is what makes us uncomfortable.”


To say that grief recurs is not to say that it necessarily cripples. Bonanno argues that we imagine grief to be more debilitating than it usually is.  Despite the slew of self-help books that speak of the “overwhelming” nature of loss, we are designed to grieve, and a good number of us are what he calls “RESILIENT” mourners.  For such people, he thinks, our touchy-feely therapeutic culture has overestimated the need for “grief work.”


Interesting commentary on grief becoming a private process and the loss of
public rituals, etc around the time of the overwhelming losses of World War I.

Healing from an Emotionally Destructive Relationship

January 8, 2010

Whenever I encounter a thoughtful person who is willing to share the personal impact of a good book, I like to pass it on.  Such is the case with Mary _____, who was impacted by the book The Emotionally Destructive Relationship.  Take the time to read her perspective on the issue.

Leslie Vernick writes a very practical and balanced book in The Emotionally Destructive Relationship. I have related so well with much that she has stated. Vernick separates her discussion into three categories and corresponding sections of the book: Seeing it, Stopping it, and Surving it.

When I started reading this book there was an unnerving question that had been lingering in my heart for several months: Is it normal to be still struggling with, to be still experiencing the effects of, the abuse from my father? The first several chapters in the “seeing it” section answered my question with “yes, it is normal.”  Vernick described the effects of those who have experienced emotional, or any other kind, of abuse as seeing themselves in a bubble separate from others. I cried when I read it. It so perfectly described how I was feeling. I stopped reading and expressed my thoughts and feelings through a bubble chart showing how I felt different or disconnected from others as a result of my experience. Vernick also revealed that normal is really still just broken. I think that was important to hear as it brought my bubble back into the sphere of others. It gave me hope.

Vernick went on to describe abuse and where it comes from. She painted a biblical portrait of the destructive themes of the heart and how each theme plays its part in Read the rest of this entry »