7 thoughts on “How Might We Grieve in a Death-Denying Society? (Part 1)

  • July 25, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    My mother died when I was six, and in the same year I lost a grandfather and my beloved puppy. So I began grappling with grief early on. I’ve explored a number of new and old philosophical approaches, including the idea that humans extend beyond individual brains and are actually collectively represented in the minds of all who know us, including our own mind. When a person dies, the core mind/brain passes, but the rest of the collective remains. This is but a thin comfort in the face of the loss of central figures in our lives, but it helps. So does time, and so does communicating with others (including through art). Ultimately, I think the largest measure of comfort comes from recognizing the transience of life, and the natural inevitability of death. A deep acceptance of life’s flow sometimes makes grief more bearable. Some use the phrasing ‘God’s will,’ which I don’t, but it amounts to much the same thing. We are small creatures living our short lives in connection with others like ourselves. Death and grief are inevitable, and acceptance must be entertained, sooner or later.

  • July 25, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    Thank you, Will. I appreciated reading your comments.
    yes, death is inevitable.
    it seems to be that “get over it” and “accept it” and “get on with life” are not phrases that fit will with how i think of the process of grief. I think and have experienced that grieving is a process of incorporating the grieved one into our lives in different ways, a different way that they were in it before. my mother, my friends (Steve and Eugene), and others will always be a part of my life. so they live in me. and i grieve the loss of their presence. it is complicated.

    • July 26, 2010 at 4:36 pm

      Thank you, Will and Carol, for sharing your experiences – I believe we all learn from each other, and I very much appreciate learning from you both (especially given the path to your experience has involved such complexity and pain).

      Will, I really like your collective mind theory, and how we may also be neurobiologically linked. That extended connection reminds me a little of the “rippling” that Irvin D Yalom speaks of in his book “Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death“… the idea that each of us impacts many people’s lives: “…each of us creates – often without our conscious intent or knowledge – concentric circles of influence that may affect others for years, even generations… much as the ripples in a pond go on and on until they’re no longer visible but continuing at a nano level”
      I find it reassuring to think of these ‘ripples’ that keep extending out long after a loved one has died.

      And, Carol, I think you’ve captured that sense of complexity beautifully – the idea that others can simultaneously be ‘with us’ or even ‘in us’ long after their death, and yet their absence from our lives is still mourned and their presence is deeply missed… it is indeed complex…

  • July 28, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Wow – terrific ideas — thank you! Will share them, too.

  • July 29, 2010 at 1:35 am


    You rock. Thank you for writing such a beautiful, affirming piece. My fiance passed suddenly, about 5 1/2 years ago now. I have long maintained since then that shock, denial, anger, etc., are less phases than aspects–which may arise at any time, alone or in combination, and with or without warning.

    I think that when coming from those who know us, “move on with your life” and similar statements are generally (though not always) out of genuine caring for us and a desire that we not deep-grieve endlessly. But in a larger sense, I think it’s one of the many ways the culture says, “Don’t be such a drag.” I pursued and found supportive communities during my deepest grief, but I was and am still flabbergasted by the way our society deals with death…oops, I mean *doesn’t* deal with it, as your title aptly reflects. I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a blog around this, but–I’ve got 2 blogs already and even then am not super prolific, lol.

    I love the “continuing bonds” concept: Ron will definitely always be a part of my life, and I am certainly different and better for having known him. (If you’re interested: For more on how that’s true, check out the blog linked to on my name.)

    Thanks again and keep up the good work!

    • August 7, 2010 at 9:55 pm

      Thank you so much, Connie and Claire and Supa Dupa Fresh for sharing your stories and reflections here, too.

      It looks like you’re all engaged in such important work online to extend your own experiences around living with death, and to share them with others so the growth and benefit keep rippling out into the world… it’s inspiring
      (and I’m mindful of how you’ve managed to build all of that from a place of such pain… and I also want to say I’m sorry for your loss).

  • July 29, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Thank you so much for this post and for recognizing the changing structure of how we might view the grieving process. I have not read the “continuing bonds” book, but it sounds like the theory that most fits for me.

    When I lost my son six years ago to a drug overdose at age 26, I immediately discovered our continuing bond. Eventually, I came to a place of letting go of everything but the love between us. It was much more than resolving the loss and grief of his death – it brought true healing to a relationship that was troubled even before death.

    Today I count the loss of my son as both my deepest trauma and my greatest gift. Six years out, I still feel our connection and the bond of love. That, more than anything, is what has helped me to heal and keep living fully and joyfully.

    The “tools for the journey,” the things that most helped me to find continued connection and healing were dreamwork, expressive arts and journaling. I chronicle my journey in my award-winning book, The Deep Water Leaf Society: Harnessing the Transformative Power of Grief.


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