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The other side of sadness

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The Other Side of Sadness by George A. Bonanno, according to Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University is ‘a game changer.  Bonanno carefully assembles evidence to show that most of what we thought we knew is just plain wrong.  If you want to know the truth about the human experience of loss, there’s only one book on the shelf.’

We have all experienced loss at one time or another.

A. Sachs writes that death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives.

An excerpt from the book in a section titled Laughing in the Face of Death:

Probably the biggest insight into emotion and bereavement comes from positive emotions.  There is something counterintuitive about putting positive emotion and grief in the same sentence.  Historically, positive emotions received almost no attention in the bereavement literature and when they were mentioned it was almost always in the context of denial.  It was assumed that a joyous emotion during grieving could only interfere with or suppress the normal process of working through the loss.  As it turns out, this more folk wisdom than science.  Positive emotions do more than simply indicate that we are feeling good, and they occur in almost every kind of situation, even in situations as difficult as bereavement.

Author Bonanno quotes some lines in Joan Dideon’s character in the stage play which was adapted from her memoir The year of Magical Thinking:

The show opens with Didion’s character standing alone and withered before her audience, a harbinger of grief to come.  She quietly gives her audience the sobering information:  Her husband died on December 30, 2003.  “That may seem a while ago, but it won’t when it happens to you.”  Then, the clincher, “and it will happen to you.  The details will be different, but it will happen to you.  That’s what I am here to tell you.”

Death is part of life.

“We cope well with loss because we are equipped–wired, if you will–with a set of in-born psychological processes that help us do the job.  The most obvious of these is our ability to feel and express sadness.  When we feel sad, we are more likely to turn our attention inward, to reflect, take stock, and recalibrate to the reality of the loss.  When we express sadness, we tell others that we are in pain, that our minds are elsewhere, and that we are likely to need their care and sympathy, especially during the early days and weeks of bereavement.

“All emotions, including sadness, are designed to be short-term solutions.  If we remain in a constant state of sadness or feel sad for too long a time, we run the risk of ruminating and withdrawing from the world around us.  If we express too much sadness, we begin to alienate the very people whose help and support we most need.

“Fortunately, nature has provided a built-in solution.  Rather than staying sad for long periods of time, our experience of the emotion comes and goes.  It oscillates.  Over time the cycle widens, and gradually we return to a state of equilibrium.”

The last paragraph in Bonanno’s book is an observation from a woman (Karen Everly) about her feelings years after the death of her daughter.

It’s a bit like a fading light.  It grows dim but it never goes out, never, not completely anyway.  I find that enormously reassuring.  I used to worry that someday the light would disappear–that I would forget, and then I would really have lost Claire.  I know, now, that doesn’t happen.  It can’t.  There is always a little flicker there.  It is a bit like the small glowing embers you see after a fire dies down.  I carry that around with me, that little ember, and if I need to, if I want to have Claire next to me, I blow on it, ever so gently, and it glows bright again.

About hopeseguin

Who am I? I'm still discovering just who I am, I suppose. A. Powell Davis writes that "Life is just a chance to grow a soul."

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