Old Books on Shelf

Reviews Elsewhere – The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How we Learn from Love and Loss.

Actually not so much a review, but an interview with the author Mary-Frances O’Connor.

The interview covers some of the topics she writes about in the book, and I thought they might be relevant for many of us who are grieving a loss right now or who continue to grieve a pandemic loss, etc.

In particular, I really enjoyed this one question and answer because it is something that I see in my own life.

In normalising the grief reaction, do you get to the point where you believe there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve? You also point out that the Kubler-Ross model has been wrongly taken as a ‘prescription for how to grieve’, rather than a description.
I believe that there are as many different ways to grieve as there are ways to love – which makes sense, since they are closely related processes. Most of us find that marriage, for example, is very different than we expected, and this is usually true with grieving as well. Everyone I know has a very different marriage, with different emotions, different ways to approach problems, different rituals and interpretations of events. Yet, they are all still marriage. So, scientists look for patterns across these very different expressions of grief. Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a brilliant scientist, using the best technology at the time in psychiatry – the clinical interview. She had the revolutionary idea of actually talking to terminally ill patients, and accurately described their experiences of grief, which were then applied to grief of bereaved people as well. But research since the 1960’s has shown that although she gave us an accurate description of grief, of moments in time, that grieving does not occur in a linear way through these stages. Much longer studies – by Holland and Neimeyer, for example – have shown that we go back and forth, with more and less acceptance over time. The trouble is that many people think ‘the five stages’ is a prescription for grieving, and feel like there is something wrong with them if they don’t experience anger, for example.

My wife and I both lost parents a few years ago, and frankly, her grief was different than my grief. I don’t think it would surprise anyone that the grief she had for her own parents was different than the grief I had over losing my in-laws. But her grieving process for her parents was also very different than the grieving process I had for my parents.

We are different people, so yes we are going to grieve differently, but we also had to realize that her relationship with her parents was different than the one I had with mine too. All of these factors contribute to what the process is going to look like and there’s no reason to think it would be exactly the same for everyone going through grief. It also means that our own grief will look different for different people in our lives that we lose because we love them differently.

Losing a spouse, parent, sibling, etc. for me would be different than losing one of my friends. I love them differently, and I imagine I would grieve differently.. Losing anyone you love hurts but you likely have a variety of different relationships with people so it only makes sense that you would grieve them differently too, and then it also becomes obvious that we all will grieve differently from each other. There’s no straight line, there’s no “normal” way to grieve, there is just one individual processing the loss of another person that they had a unique connection to.

Wherever you are in that process is where you are. It’s not a contest and it’s not a pre-defined timeline. It’s a loss and you are free to mourn that.

If you’ve read the book, let us know what you thought about it.

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