“A Dismal Business” – A defense of books and blogs on grief

I read an article yesterday questioning the necessity, quantity, and quality of books and blogs currently written on grief, and it keeps crossing my mind. Since I can’t quit thinking of it, I might as well say something about it.

The crux of the article was that the author felt there were too many books and blogs on grief now. (The article dated August 19, 2011 is entitled “Too Much Grief” on theguardian.co.uk website.) Her take is that grief is private and one should not write about it, at least not publicly. Keep it to yourself. As she concludes her article, she says, “Don’t give me grief.”

I couldn’t help myself. I had to write a comment. Here’s what I said:

“As a bereaved parent, I thought I would take a minute and add my comments in response to your article and the successive comments. In 2002, our son was 19 when he was broadsided by a drunk driver going more than twice the speed limit. Both he and his best friend died instantly.

In an effort to understand the grief process – and just to try to find answers to so many unanswered questions following the death of a child – I read nearly every book on grief I could get my hands on. It gave me insight into the grief process, helped me understand my reactions, and let me know I wasn’t alone. At the time, there were not a lot of books on grief (many were more clinical and scholarly in nature), and there certainly were no blogs written on the subject.

In “times past,” death was part of the cycle of life. I realize we all know it’s part of the general cycle of life, but I mean that it was more integrated into our daily fabric of life. If a loved one died, they were brought into the home for a wake or whatever. Family and friends (those who lived close by and had for a long time) came by to comfort the bereaved. The bereaved had adequate support for as long as it was needed. The bereaved wore black or an armband as an outward symbol of their grief, and it was an acknowledged and respected symbol.

The pendulum then swung over to the point where stoicism was the acceptable method of handling grief. Funerals and burials were handled by churches and cemeteries or funeral parlors. Grief was considered private; and a person who handled his or her grief privately, with strength and stoicism, was admired.

In a more mobile society, families lived father apart. Friends and acquaintances no longer knew how to respond to a grieving person, and a bereaved person sometimes had to do without adequate support. A public display of grief was no longer tolerated. Speaking of a loved one made people uncomfortable. The bereaved had to go underground.

People didn’t know how to respond to those who grieved. They would avoid them, duck down the aisle in a store, pretend they didn’t see them. Grief makes people uncomfortable, and people react poorly and without understanding to the bereaved.

In my opinion, the current number of books and blogs written on grief or memoirs about the death of a loved one is a result of the pendulum swinging back more toward a middle ground. It is a direct effort to fill the void of intolerance and lack of understanding of those who grieve. It gives a voice to the bereaved to be able to speak about their loved ones, whether in print or over the internet. It also creates a community of support, one that has been sadly missing during the “stoic” period. I, for one, applaud those who articulate their grief experiences in book or blog. (I do agree, however, that it should be well written!)

For those who agree that grieving is a “dismal business” and that grief should be handled privately and out of sight, my guess would be that you have never had a really close loved one die. Believe me, I do not wish it on anyone; but, once your precious child has died or you have lost someone very close to you, you see things very differently. Your depth of understanding and tolerance for all things grief grows exponentially.

I used to be that person who found some excuse to avoid funerals, who was uncomfortable around people whose loved one had died. I was that person who distantly observed and felt sorry for that “poor person” sadly walking through a cemetery. It was foreign to me. Now I have a whole new perspective, because that person taking flowers to her son’s grave and sadly walking through the cemetery is me.”

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One thought on ““A Dismal Business” – A defense of books and blogs on grief

  1. I agree with societies pendulum swings between death being a part of life and something we’d rather ignore – for myself, I cringe at the incoherent speeches and massive displays of grief at funerals – most likely because I can barely cope with my own grief and don’t need any pushes towards losing it and (as my upbringing tells me) making a display of myself – šŸ™‚

    On the other hand, I understand everyone grieves differently – for me, I take it as a point of pride that I can speak at funerals, to honor my loved ones and not cry/choke up while doing so –

    Others believe me to be a cold-fish with no emotions because I want so badly to clearly and succinctly get through my portion of the honoring process – –

    There are as many ways of grieving as there are people – the only reason I got tired of the ‘self-help’ grieving slew of topics was they started off “Everyone grieves differently” but then proceeded to tell me how I should grieve and what to not to do- – LOL –

    If they help, I pay attention – if they don’t , I ignore ’em – – that’s my grieving journey šŸ™‚

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