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On the Subject of Grief, Academic Researcher and Journalist Are Just Tilting at Windmills

Last week I read two books I found rather appalling. Though supposedly about grief, neither of these books will be of any help whatsoever to people who are actually grieving. In fact they will likely do more harm than good.

Though The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss (George A. Bonanno, PhD) isn’t nearly as cynical and mean-spirited as The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss (Ruth Davis Konigsberg), both authors are tilting at windmills that simply don’t exist except within their own professional echo chambers.

One an academic researcher and the other a gotcha journalist, both doing battle with bereavement experts when in fact all they’re doing is shadow boxing with the propaganda being dished out within their own professions.

Had either of them spent any time interviewing grief support professionals with an open mind and a willingness to learn, they would have discovered that the vast majority of us have long ago left the stages of grief in the dust along with the idea everyone needs counseling.

It’s not that what these books say is so wrong. They are correct that there are no stages of grief (Lord alive, can we please put this one to rest, even EKR knew is wasn’t so), most people don’t need grief counseling and the vast majority of people are able to function in their daily lives relatively quickly following a death.

The real problem with these books is the conclusions they come to. Just because someone doesn’t go through the 5 stages, or doesn’t need grief counseling, or is functioning in their daily lives, does not mean that they aren’t grieving…and it certainly does not mean they don’t need support.

Despite Ms. Konigsberg’s assertion that those of us in the “grief counseling industry” are preying on the unsuspecting who would be doing just fine if we’d stop telling them how bad grief is, loss of a loved one and the grief that follows is one of the most difficult experiences any of us go through.

Going through it alone is even worse. Though counseling may not be necessary, people who are grieving do need support. They need the gift of compassionate hearts willing to listen and share the pain. If you’ve ever grieved you know this quality is in rather short supply.

In a culture that has largely abdicated its role in offering compassionate care to its fellow citizens, counseling professionals and volunteer group facilitators are the ones filling the gap.

As long as the friends and families of the bereaved continue to turn away in droves (and they do) and continue to say the most ridiculous and hurtful things (they do this too), people who are grieving are going to continue to turn to the people who understand and are willing to walk with them in their grief. Yes, just about anyone can do that but the sad truth is that they don’t.

By reinforcing the idea that grief is easy and short-lived, books like these do a huge disservice to the grieving by adding yet more myth to the general public’s understanding of grief.

In the end that means fewer people reaching out to be supportive, more pressure to “just get over it already”, and more of the bereaved seeking professional support because that’s the only place they can find what they need.

Susan FullerSusan Fuller


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2 Responses to “On the Subject of Grief, Academic Researcher and Journalist Are Just Tilting at Windmills”

  1. Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective Says:

    I entirely agree with your review of these books!!!

    “As long as the friends and families of the bereaved continue to turn away in droves (and they do) and continue to say the most ridiculous and hurtful things (they do this too), people who are grieving are going to continue to turn to the people who understand and are willing to walk with them in their grief. Yes, just about anyone can do that but the sad truth is that they don’t.

    By reinforcing the idea that grief is easy and short-lived, books like these do a huge disservice to the grieving by adding yet more myth to the general public’s understanding of grief. ”

    Well said!!

    In my journal, my review of The Truth About Grief (read 5/17/11) said:

    “I found this book very negative. She quotes George Bonanno (The Other Side of Sadness) and acknowledge him as inspiration. I think she’s right about the Kubler-Ross stages being too rigid and too accepted as the norm for grieving, but her attitude toward most grief-help was very callous. It doesn’t seem to me she has experienced any type of earth-shattering grief. Her book is based on clinical research and regurgitated with her own negative spin.”

    My review of The Other Side of Sadness said (read 1/1/11):

    “Many things bothered me about this book. Although I agreed with a few things, in my opinion Mr. Bonanno does not have a good understanding about what it’s like to be a bereaved parent. It feels like he minimizes the length of time and difficulty that a bereaved parent’s journey may take.

    Although I agree that we are generally more resilient than we think and can survive what may be considered unsurvivable, I feel like Mr. Bonanno minimizes much of what bereaved parents encounter. His assertion that anything greater than six months of grieving should be suspect as prolonged grieving is ludicrous – especially when it comes to the death of a child.

    I believe this book is a disservice to bereaved parents and will be a discouragement should they read it when seeking insight into the journey of grief following the death of a child. It will make them feel guilty for not being more resilient and for not recovering quickly enough.”

  2. admin Says:

    Thanks for your comments. All we can do is keep educating.

    Susan

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