GRIEF over the Grief Industry
The post is not **** ba yah. This is a
lament, a lament over a million dollar industry built on lazy scholarship and
There is simply no formula to grief. Grief
industry folk would agree…but…would add, try my book, go to my seminar, it
might help, can’t hurt trying.
Have you ever attended a grief workshop?
If you have, there is a good chance that it was unwittingly based on some
modified idea of “grief-work.” The idea of “grief-work” is as old as Freud’s
1917 article on “Mourning and Melancholia.” Here is how it works theoretically.
Grieving is about economy of psychic energy. Emotional pain of grief is the
inability to discharge the energy that is wrapped up with a lost loved one
because that person is gone. This energy, still pressing for satisfaction,
builds up in the mind, resulting in emotional pain. Recovery is the re-direction
of this psychic energy to others. The grief industry can frame the idea as God,
spirit, self-actualization, or whatever, it really is all the same idea.
Recent studies have found this view of
grief to be mainly…ah…misplaced to say the least. There is no discernible sequence
of emotional phases of adaption to loss. There is no clear endpoint to grieving
that would designate a state of “recovery.” There is no clear universal and
normative pattern of grieving. I love Kubler-Ross. She brought the issue of
death to the American public attention and in part laid the ground work for the
public funding of hospice. But her study has been misused and abused. Her stages
of grief study were with the person who was dying, not the ones left behind.
Why does this matter? Well, with the
grief industry, the lure, the promise is “come to my seminar and find recovery.”
Of course there is always the glowing list of personal testimonies. But here is
the problem. This model indirectly disempowers the bereaved by implying that
grieving people must passively negotiate a sequence of psychological
transitions forced on them by external events. Recent research has also brought
into question the core assumption of many grief programs, that grief is individualistic.
The grief industry models often construe grief as an entirely private process. But
grief is never private, it is a social construction. We learn to grieve from others;
the way we talk about grief is a social process.
Today, research based models stress that
grief is a social process. Sometime in the future I will make a post about such
ideas as dual processing and Neimeyer’s model of meaning reconstruction.
But here is the ax that I am trying to
grind. Those in the grief industry feel the need to tell us how to grieve. I
have found most of these grief programs are really just a collection of
personal stories and anecdotal advice. I have lost count of the times that
someone has said to me, “give them this book, it really helped me.” Well, fine
and dandy. But they are not you. Most of the books on grieving are simply…ah…****.
How dare I say that? Experience. I say experience. I have been in the trenches
long enough to know that most of those “wonderful books” are simply wonderful
for a few, and the rest of us, well, we just shut up and smile.
I recently was talking to a woman about
her loss of her husband to cystic fibrosis. I asked her about the grief
materials she received from the hospice. She said, “I don’t need them to tell
me that the death of my husband sucks.” We laughed together.