Double X -
The idea that grief is work that we must do began with Freud. He believed that if you didn't labor at it, you would never recover the psychic energy you had invested in a person who was no longer there. Over time, psychologists developed ways to describe the various stages of this "work." Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' stages are the most familiar: Stage 1, denial—"This cannot be!" Stage 2, anger, followed by bargaining, then depression, then acceptance. The stages have great intuitive appeal, but, according to [George Bonanno, professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University], both Freud and Kubler-Ross were wrong. The way that grief unfolds for most people is almost nothing like the old model says it should. It is not work, and it doesn't occur in stages. It can be short-lived for some people and never-ending for others. Like breathing and consciousness and almost everything else about us, grief fluctuates. Our biggest mistake when describing grief, Bonanno writes in his deep and intelligent book, The Other Side of Sadness, is that we underestimate the resilience of the bereaved. . .
Bonanno's innovation is to apply more rigorous scientific methods/tools to understanding grief. For more than 15 years, he has given thousands of mourning people standard psychological tests in order to better understand how they feel. As Bonanno interviewed the grief-stricken, he counted the number of times they referenced their loss. He recorded their facial expressions and monitored the activity of their autonomic nervous system (which controls things like heart rate, digestion, breathing, sweating), and crucially, he submitted his results for peer review.
Bonanno and his colleagues found that there are at least three common patterns of grief. Some people find the experience deeply distressing and disorienting but then slowly heal. Some become completely dominated by their sadness, perhaps never to recover. This type is extremely rare. Then there are people who experience some initial shock and distress but who pretty quickly bounce back into the competent execution of their daily lives. Most people, says Bonanno, fit into the third category. . .