Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Response to "Rethinking Grief"

In this recent article, the author explores a new book by Ruth Davis Konisberg, "The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss."

There are several points made in the article that I absolutely agree with. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grieving (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) are now widely embedded in our cultural understanding discussion of grief. Even folks who have never heard of Kubler-Ross use those terms and the idea of "grief stages" to discuss grief and loss. And I agree with both Ms Konisberg and the article's author that there is very little empirical support for the idea of discrete "grief stages" that are moved through in a clear, easily identifiable manner.

Like Ms Konisberg, I believe that the concept of clearly defined "grief stages" can actually make grieving feel more challenging for those whose grief doesn't follow the Kubler-Ross model. When I work with clients, we talk about the common emotional components of grief (sadness, anger, confusion, loss, loneliness, etc). We discuss the fact that many people experience grief emotions more than once in their grief process. And finally, we talk about the fact that each person's experience of grief is distinct and unique.

Finally, I agree with Ms Konisberg's premise that grief is a natural human experience. I believe that most people experience and process grief without the need of additional support and intervention. I think that identifying and supporting our strength and capability for resilience is critical to our emotional health.

I did have one significant reservation as I read the article and explored Ms Konisberg's book. There is a mention of complicated grief, such as might be experienced after suicide, loss of a child, compound losses, etc. However, I was concerned that individuals with complicated grief may feel disempowered by the suggestion that grief is a relatively quick process.

I think that the central tenet that grief is deeply individual, not responding to any prescribed formula is an important take-away. I hope that readers whose grief is not "quick", are able to hear that their grief is valid and not necessarily unhealthy.

What have your grief experiences been? What was the best support you received? What support felt least helpful? Is there a resource that you wish had been available during your grieving?