Giving grief its due

Phyllis Glick Kosminsky
3 min readJun 30, 2020

A Response to the cover story on Grief, Psychology Today, August 2020

“If, as a culture, we don’t bear witness to grief, the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up. And if they don’t — if they have loved too deeply, if they do wake up each morning thinking, I cannot continue to live — well, then we pathologize their pain; we call their suffering a disease.

We do not help them: we tell them that they need to get help.”

  • Cheryl Strayed

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At a time when millions of people worldwide are experiencing grief, I was encouraged to see the cover story on this month’s issue. There is a need to talk about grief, and to acknowledge the many kinds of losses that so many people are facing at present. At such a time there is also a place for informative and supportive editorial content, some of which the cover article has provided. However, where the topic is a human experience as complex and impactful as grief and loss, it is a disservice to readers to place so much emphasis on one perspective and to rely to such an extent on a single expert, whose research supports the value of resilience in coping with grief. The idea that a positive, take charge approach to bereavement is “the way” to most effectively do the “work” of grief is by no means universally accepted by other researchers and by experienced clinicians. The value of steps such as those outlined in the article is not in dispute. But what is just as well documented is the persistent and debilitating impact that grief has for many people, despite the passage of time and despite their best efforts. The article’s emphasis on a “can do” approach to “getting through” grief runs the risk of dismissing the difficulties associated with certain losses, for example, traumatic loss and loss of a child. Too much of what the article presents sounds like the kind of “encouragement” offered to the bereaved by family and friends; well-meaning though it may be, the exhortation to buck up can make someone who already feels alone and bereft feel that much worse. It’s not that activity isn’t important. It’s not that attitude isn’t important. But when addressing a subject so topical, and a potential audience so broad, the writer has a responsibility to avoid presenting it in a way that has the potential to complicate, rather than alleviate, readers’ emotional distress. Hannah Whitaker, who is credited with the cover photo for the issue, has this to say about the devastating losses facing so many in her home base of Brooklyn and throughout the world: “Representing that collective sorrow is a big responsibility.” She has the right idea: I wish that the article had been written with comparable insight.

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Phyllis Glick Kosminsky

Phyllis Kosminsky is a grief therapist, author and adjunct professor. She is interested in life, with death left in.