After years of research, George Bonanna makes the claim in this book that empirical evidence does not support the “stages of grief” idea. Adjusting to the loss of a loved one is complex and takes a different trajectory for everyone who loses. The Kubler-Ross stages of grief model was not intended to be prescriptive, as reactions are not the same for those who grieve the loss of a loved one. Unfortunately, “stages” and “tasks” have been viewed by some as regulatory. George Bonanno’s research group found that there are no specific stages everyone must go through in order to adjust. The author presents good material about resiliency in grief. Most of us do not experience overwhelming or unending grief. We manage to regain our equilibrium and move on, but this does not mean that no pain or sadness exists.
Sadness is viewed negatively by some theorists, but the author states that “sadness turns our attention inward so that we can take stock and adjust.” It helps us focus with deeper and more effective reflection. In this way, sadness helps us accommodate to our loss. It puts life in slow motion, giving time to evaluate the meaning of the loss and make plans for the present and the future.
Sadness becomes destructive when we obsessively linger on it and allow it to control us.
Bonanno emphasizes the oscillating nature of grief. We focus on the pain and sadness. We explore the implications of our loss, but this is not a constant 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our minds swing toward other people and events in the present. We connect with people and even engage in humor. Then we move back to the process of mourning.
He addresses, but does not recommend, strong views about single-session debriefing for the general population after exposure to trauma. The World Health Organization’s Department of Mental Hygiene and Substance Abuse says the early intervention “is likely ineffective and some evidence suggests that some forms of debriefing may be counterproductive by slowing down natural recovery.” The need for help should first be determined. Then the problem should be identified, followed by referral to the appropriate professional.
The reader may disagree with the author’s view of immortality and the hereafter, but the content of this book should make pastoral support for the grieving much more effective. One size fits all does not fly. Especially helpful in today’s globalization is his insight into grief in different cultures.