The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us about Life After Loss (Basic Books, 2010)

One of the best books I’ve read this year! I admit, I do love research and “science” that turns a conventional idea on its head. This book does that with a blend of accessible studies and stories. While still academic in nature, it was a much easier read than I imagined.

George Boranna studies bereavement and asks if the ideas our culture tends to accept about our response to death and loss are true. He provides a history of how we came to think of grief in a certain way (that there are stages and a “typical” process involved, etc.) and he debunks the concept that lack of deep sadness or “grief” means we are in denial.

He says that traditional bereavement theories assume grief has to be painful, and that the comfort of memories is just another barrier to dealing with the reality of the loss. But, he says, the science of bereavement strongly counters this idea.

Despite the evidence, or should I say lack of evidence, the idea that not grieving enough will lead to delayed grief has somehow become a cultural given. Not only do most professionals still endorse the idea, but almost everyone else believes it as well.”

“These ideas create rigid parameters for ‘proper” behavior that do not match what most people go through . . . As a result, they foster doubt and suspicion about successful coping . . .”

I also appreciate Boranno’s findings that suggest we humans are much more resilient than we tend to imagine. His approach is mostly focused on the psychology of bereavement and resilience, and from this perspective, he shares qualities that create more ease when adapting to loss. This is exciting to me because it suggests we can implement inner skills that will have a positive impact on our experience of challenging times, especially the death of a loved one.

He also looks at if views about death are truly related to resilience during bereavement:

The study found that the people who years earlier had said they didn’t worry about death or who generally accepted that death happens were the same people who tended to cope best with the pain of grief when their spouse died.”

For me, as I’ve encountered people wondering if I’ve been suppressing grief, this research is incredibly validating. It gives me hope that we can shift how we respond to loss in ways that are create a healthier, happier society.

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