The Five Ways We Grieve by Susan Berger reviews the different ways that people respond to death and grief. I personally gravitate more towards Grieving Mindfully by Sameet Kamur when it comes to books on coping with grief. Both books stress that the healthy way to cope with grief is to find meaning from the loss and develop a new identity that incorporates the loss. What distinguishes Berger’s book is that she uses research to identify 5 main types of identities that people develop after suffering a loss (whereas Kamur focuses more on the process of grieving and feeling). The 5 identities are:
“Nomads – who have not yet resolved their grief and often don’t understand how their loss has affected their lives.
Memorialists – who are committed to preserving the memory of their loved ones by creating concrete memorials and rituals to honor them.
Normalizers – who are committed to re-creating a sense of family and community.
Activists – who focus on helping other people who are dealing with the same disease or issues that caused their loved one’s death.
Seekers – who adopt religious, philosophical, or spiritual beliefs to create meaning in their lives.”
Berger uses vignettes from several interviews she has done throughout her career to illustrate each of these identities. Some of the issues she brings up that I feel are important to consider are that most people start out as Nomads during the acute stage of grief while they are trying to just survive and get their bearings; some people may identify with more than one identity but Berger stresses that we all have one dominant identity; finally, it is ok and normal to shift between identities as we progress through life. Only the Nomad identity is problematic in the long run as it signifies unresolved grief. Another topic that I am glad she discussed was the concept of “disenfranchised” grief, or grief felt by people that society typically assumes “should not” be feeling “so much grief” or be as affected by the loss. For example, a grieving sister who lost her brother and then her connection to her nephew when her sister-in-law turned to her own family for support felt disenfranchised, as in her grief was not as intense or as important as the wife’s grief. Another example is someone who loses an elderly parent. Society’s expectation is that they “got to live a full life” so the griever should be able to “get over it” much quicker than someone who lost a loved one “before their time.”
Berger also discussed 4 factors the affect how we develop our identity, she calls them the “Four Pillars of Identity:”
- Our sense of our own mortality
- Our sense of time (do we focus on the past, present, or future)
- Our values and priorities in life
- Our relationship to the world
She has several writing exercises at the end of her book to help you think through your identity before and after your loss. This is very similar to some exercises we do in cognitive processing therapy because trauma, like loss, changes how you see yourself, others, and the world.
What stood out to me in this book and others on grieving is that coping with grief, like coping with trauma, requires that we stop avoiding. It requires us to stop, to feel, and to think through what these experiences mean about us and our future. This process requires a supportive environment, whether through family, friends, or professional help.
I encourage you to check out the book from your local library! In fact many libraries even have the books available as ebooks for download! All of the books I have reviewed here I borrowed from my local city and county libraries.