Thursday, March 4, 2010

Further Thoughts

I've been thinking about yesterday's post all day and I think what bugs me the most is the way these sorts of things - seeds of pop-science wisdom - seep into the culture. They affect the way all of us are treated by our physicians, how we're perceived by the people around us, and even how we view ourselves. More distorted scales and faulty yardsticks by which we can weigh and measure and find ourselves lacking or failing or falling behind.

Yesterday's example is cranky-making one, but the most egregious example I can think of is the continuing misunderstanding of what we have come to call the Stages of Grief. Forty-ish years ago, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross* wrote a wonderful book called On Death and Dying in which she examined the psychological process of coming to terms with one's own, imminent death. Her work changed for the better the way we deal with the terminally ill on every level. Somehow, early on, her research was co-opted by the culture of grieving and soon everyone dealing with death (their own or anyone else's) or just about any form of loss (being fired, getting divorced, moving, etc.) was urged to 'work the stages.' You remember the stages, right? 1.Denial 2. Anger 3. Bargaining 4. Depression 5. Acceptance. And, following Acceptance comes the unofficial sixth stage: Moving On.

Moving On is also known as 'getting back to normal' or 'getting over it.' And that's the stage that other people are really waiting for. Unfortunately, this life I'm living now isn't about stages. Nor should it be. There's plenty of current research on grief and bereavement that does not support the Stages model and, increasingly, therapists and support organizations that specialize in bereavement are moving towards recognizing that grief and grieving are not a cookie-cutter, step-by-step process. Unlike preparing for one's own death, there's not a definitive end in sight...there's just life - as much of it as might be left - to navigate. Unfortunately, it's taking a while for that message to reach the general (and not so general) public.

So, consider this me doing my part to spread the word. Because, I assure you, when your child dies, there is nothing neat about grieving; it does not happens in stages. It just is.

*I wanted her to have her umlaut, and I still don't know how to make them. I am reduced to stealing umlauts.


Cara deBeer said...

There was a New Yorker article (sometime in the last two months, because that's how long they tend to live in the bathroom before I get to them) which talked about how our culture has changed in the way it deals with grief: the culture doesn't really recognize grief, there are fewer and fewer mourning rituals, and people are expected to "muscle through" grief - as if that's admirable, or even possible. Not only that, non-mourners have, and impose, a timeline on you: grieve for a few weeks, okay, but after that you "should" be done.

It made me think of you, in any case, and then I checked my feed reader and here were two posts from you saying the same thing!

Cara deBeer said...

Aha! I looked the article up and it's by Meghan O'Rourke in the Feb 1 issue, and it's called "Good Grief."

Debi said...

Oh, thanks sweetie. I will have to pull that up after supper and read it.