Grieving Process-Challenging the Five Stages

For those who think the five stages have long since disappeared from our culture, the opening paragraph of a new article by Michele Sponagle in the Canadian magazine Chatelaine reminds us how prevalent they still our, at least in our own minds. ”When my dad called on New Year’s Day, 2006, to tell me my mom had died nine months into her battle with ovarian cancer, I didn’t cry,” writes Sponagle. “Nor did I cry at her funeral, or even afterwards. Clearly, there was something seriously wrong with me. Where were the five stages of grief I’d heard about? Where were the denial, the anger, the bargaining, the depression and the acceptance? Instead I just felt guilty about my lack of emotion. What kind of horrible daughter was I?” You can read more about what Sponagle learned here.

9/11 Psychology: Just how resilient were we?

A new special issue of American Psychologist, titled “9/11: Ten Years Later,” takes a look at how survivors coped and who needed the most help. I analyze the report at

God and Grief

The Reverend Thomas G. Long, of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, recently wrote an interesting article in the journal Christian Century. “Theologians had been raising objections to Kubler-Ross’s ideas for a long time. The idea that people sail across the stygian stream towards some tranquil stage of acceptance is not an empirical observation. It is bad theology, a product of Kubler-Ross’s smuggled Neoplatonism, which stands in tension with Christian eschatology and the biblical concept of death as the final enemy.”

Do Men and Women Grieve Differently?

An article in the New York Times about male grievers wanting to join support groups and finding only women raises the question: do men and women grieve differently? Author Perry Garfinkel concludes that yes, they do, but cites as evidence some stereotypes that have never been proven: that women are more expressive and “intuitive,” while men don’t want to talk about their feelings. I reviewed all the literature and devoted a whole chapter in my book to this debate and conclude that the research is too flawed to tell if men and women grieve differently, and if there are differences, they’re certainly not as great as the similarities. For the most part, the attempt to “gender” grief—just as marshalling it into stages—does it a disservice.

Online Support Groups—Too Much Self-Disclosure?

As of 2009, there were an estimated 55 different Internet grief support groups offering communities for all types of losses. Earlier research described such sites as “cyber-refuges” from a world where grief was unwelcome, and found that those bereaved by suicide in particular found such support online helpful, especially having access to an outlet day and night. But a recent analysis of the content of messages posted on several web-based support groups found that self-disclosure accounted for two-thirds of all statements. Although research on peer helping has found that such a high level of self-disclosure can hinder interaction, the authors conclude that the bereaved who go online are both offering and seeking support, and that a protocol has developed whereby respondents share their own personal experiences in response to the original post. The authors conclude, “In many cases, internet grief communities may serve as a valued supplement to therapy. However, it is important that practitioners weigh the potential benefits and risks of grief forums when recommending them to clients. They also should monitor their clients’ experiences with such forums.”

Losing a Parent and Obesity

An intriguing new study just published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine suggests a link between the death of a parent in childhood (or prolonged separation) and obesity as an adult. Researchers in Italy interviewed 120 patients who were undergoing pre-surgical psychiatric consultation for bariatric surgery. Overall, 28 percent of the patients reported a childhood parental death or separation (and a whopping 91 percent were diagnosed with bipolar spectrum disorder.) Of course, this in no way means that people who lose their parents when young will become obese, but it does suggest that both mental illness and trauma (and not just genetics or a lack of willpower as is commonly thought) may play a role in obesity.

What Do People Really Need in a Crisis?

Logistical help, not counseling. Great article by humanitarian aid expert Dr. Sheri Fink on about what the people of Japan really need right now.

How Your Brain Copes With Grief

Just as neuroscientists have pinpointed exactly what happens to your brain under stress, so too have they been able to identify some of the mechanisms of resilience. A fascinating article in Scientific American looks at the biochemical, genetic and behavioral foundations of emotional strength, and how that information may help us when our healing processes fail.

The Truth About Widowhood

In the past decade, social scientists with unprecedented access to large groups of widows and widowers have learned that, as individual an experience as grief may be, there are specific patterns to its intensity and duration that are arguably more helpful in guiding the bereaved in what to expect. Isn’t it time we update our popular notions about widowhood as well?

Read more from my Op-Ed in the New York Times, February 15th, 2011.

Shouldn’t Grief Have the Power to Enact Change?

As the lawn outside of the University Medical Center in Tucson becomes blanketed by photos and candles and stuffed animals commemorating the people gunned down by Jared Loughner, I turned for insight to Memorial Mania, a new book that documents the explosion in public memorialization in America and found this interesting observation: “Some temporary memorials engage social and political transformation–granting personhood to previously silenced subjects, demanding inclusion for those subjects within an expanded national imagination,” writes art historian Erika Lee Doss. “Yet other temporary memorials are frozen in emotional catharsis, fixated on exclusionary religious and political tenets and/or beholden to grief industry experts who promote them as ways to “work through” trauma. They are the material and emotional testimonials of a nation grief-stricken by violent death and yet seemingly disengaged from the social and political initiatives that might check such violence.”