Who writes those grief manuals?
by Charles A. Corr, PhD
n her book, I'll See You Again (New York: Gallery Books, 2013), Jackie Hance describes her experiences after the deaths of her three young daughters. Their deaths occurred when Jackie's sister-in-law, Diane, was driving the wrong way on a major highway. The accident killed Diane, her daughter, Jackie's children, and three men in the car they hit head on. Jackie's bereavement was further complicated when toxicology reports showed that Diane had a blood alcohol level of 0.19 percent-more than twice the legal limit.
On the anniversary of the deaths of her children, Jackie noted that:
Psychiatric manuals give people a year to recover from grief. My year was up with no recovery in sight. No protective scars had formed over the raw grief, and if anything, each day got harder and harder.
Whoever writes those manuals doesn't have a clue
There are innumerable books that seek to offer advice for bereaved persons. Regrettably, too many of those books offer specific time frames for what they call "normal grieving" or crude models setting out a limited number of "stages" that individuals are supposed to "go through." Experts in bereavement research and counseling, along with many bereaved persons, reject these attempts to impose simplistic frameworks on the real-life experiences of bereaved individuals.
In a book that still acknowledges the "stage" metaphor, even Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler observed, "there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives" (2005, p. 7). More to the point, Kenneth Doka declared that "there has been a considerable disenchantment with stage theories. . . . Moreover . . . it seems naive to believe that all individuals will cope with loss similarly . . ." (2011, p. vi).
So if we are directed to manuals that depict our grief and mourning as solely involving a fixed set of stages and as limiting us to pre-set time frames, we should be very cautious in accepting such guidance. Some people who write grief manuals or who give superficial advice to bereaved persons may not have a very deep or reliable understanding of what they are talking about. Be cautious in the advice you accept; focus instead on what you need to do to cope with your losses and adapt to the new world in front of you.
A little more than two years after the deaths of her three children, Jackie Hance gave birth to a new daughter. In the end, she wrote:
Kasey is proof that we have only one direction to move in life-and that is forward. We have both fewer choices than we think-and more. I had no choice about what happened on July 26. And it took me a long time to understand that all I could control was how I lived every day after that (p. 272).
Charles A. Corr, PhD, is a volunteer with Suncoast Hospice and formerly chaired the International Work Group on Death, Dying, and Bereavement.
Doka, K. J. (2011). Introduction. In K.J. Doka & A.S. Tucci (Eds.), Beyond Kübler-Ross: New perspectives on death, dying & grief (pp. iii-xvii). Washington, DC: Hospice Foundation of America.
Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2005). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. New York: Scribner.
Copyright Hospice Foundation of America, 2016. Reprinted with permission from
Journeys: A Newsletter to Help in Bereavement
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