A Change of Heart


Because grief is personal, each one of us has to find individual ways of coping with the death of a loved one. There are no cookbook solutions for the correct way to grieve. Your answers may not be in a book, at a support group, with a therapist, or on a web site, including this one. I include the book below because it provides a different perspective on grief. Only you can decide if the information has value for you. Click here for my review.

Ruth Davis Konigsberg, The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages

and the New Science of Loss. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011.

Product Description:

The five stages of grief are so deeply embedded in our culture that no American can escape them. Every time we experience loss-a personal or national one-we hear them recited: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The stages are invoked to explain everything from how we will recover from the death of a loved one to a sudden environmental catastrophe or to the trading away of a basketball star. But the stunning fact is that there is no validity to the stages that were proposed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross more than forty years ago.

In The Truth About Grief, Ruth Davis Konigsberg shows how the five stages were based on no science but nonetheless became national myth. She explains that current research paints a completely different picture of how we actually grieve. It turns out people are pretty well programmed to get over loss. Grieving should not be a strictly regimented process, she argues; nor is the best remedy for pain always to examine it or express it at great length. The strength of Konigsberg's message is its liberating force: there is no manual to grieving; you can do it freestyle.

In the course of clarifying our picture of grief, Konigsberg tells its history, revealing how social and cultural forces have shaped our approach to loss from the Gettysburg Address through 9/11. She examines how the American version of grief has spread to the rest of the world and contrasts it with the interpretations of other cultures that focus more on the bond with the deceased than on the emotional impact of bereavement. Konigsberg also offers a close look at Kübler-Ross herself: who she borrowed from to come up with her theory, and how she went from being a pioneering psychiatrist to a New Age healer who sought the guidance of two spirits named Salem and Pedro and declared that death did not exist.

Deeply researched and provocative, The Truth About Grief draws on history, culture, and science to upend our country's most entrenched beliefs about its most common experience.

From the back cover:

"The Truth About Grief challenges the received wisdom about how and why we grieve and, through healthy skepticism and admirable research, brings us to a more hopeful place." -Judith Warner, author of We've Got Issues and Perfect Madness

"Konigsberg's challenge to the orthodoxy surrounding death is both profound and urgent. This is one of those books that will change you forever, altering-for the better-your perspective on one of life's most essential, inevitable tasks: grieving the loss of a loved one." -Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter and Schoolgirls

and the New Science of Loss by Ruth Davis Konigsberg:

The Truth About Grief has challenged me to examine my most entrenched beliefs about grief and the grief industry. I thank Ms. Konigsberg for her unique and thought provoking book. I began writing about grief after the death of my mother in 2006 and launched The Grieving Heart® in 2008. As a free "dot info" site, it offers information and comfort from one griever to another.

I have become increasingly uneasy with the notion of grief expertise, as it relates to normal, uncomplicated grief. In my opinion, the heart of Konigsberg's book is that grief is a normal human experience and 85% - 90% of grievers move on with their lives after the death of a loved one without professional intervention. I know this is true for me. The exception is complicated grief involving prolonged suffering and/or clinical depression. In this case, the griever usually benefits from the services of licensed mental health professionals.

Konigsberg's premise that most of us eventually feel better after the death of a loved one—with or without professional help—resonates with me. In fact, sometimes therapy magnifies normal grief because it keeps the griever more attached to the pain. The author asserts that the most accurate predictors of how someone grieves are his or her personality, temperament and coping skills before the loss. I do not believe that the book is dangerous, as some online reviewers describe it, because the author makes it clear that professional help is necessary in some cases.

Grief has become big business, the industry of loss. As Konigsberg writes on page 15: "Our grief culture maintains that everyone's grief is unique, and then offers a uniform set of instructions [on how to grieve]." We grievers are told we must have grief counseling, attend grief support groups, participate in after care, keep a grief journal, read grief books and "work through" our grief if we are to heal.

To paraphrase the author: Mourning conventions such as wearing black armbands...have been replaced by conventions which are more restrictive in that they dictate not what a person does or wears in public, but his or her emotional state. These rules of mourning use a psychological model that some critics refer to as "clinical lore."

If we want to help grievers, we must study hallowed grief theory and pay big money to obtain certification as a grief counselor, bereavement educator or thanatologist. But what exactly does grief certification verify, except that we can pass an expensive test on grief doctrine and receive a certificate? It does not ensure competence, nor does it prove necessity.

From page 112: Part of the grief counselor's work is to help grievers see that they already have the resources they need. "For a counselor advising someone who is grieving normally, that would mean telling the client that [he or she] will do just fine...without counseling."

The Truth About Grief raises some important questions: Why is grief treated like a psychological illness that requires "expert intervention" instead of our most common human experience? How did we arrive at certain norms for grieving that don't seem to serve us well, and more importantly, why do we continue to look at grief through a distorted lens? She attempts to answer all of these questions and does so with courage and honesty.

The author also includes a history of public grieving in our country from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 to the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001. "The idea that death and...grief are ignored runs consistently through modern grief literature...but memoirs of loss published in the last decade...and public displays of grief in the wake of 9/11...while heartfelt, belie the argument that grief is private." (Page 22-23)

Based on some of the online reviews, the book has created disquiet in the counseling community. Konigsberg's opinions of some of the best-known grief experts are neutral, at best. She devotes a lot of space to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and the ubiquitous five stages of grief.

I hope The Truth About Grief ignites honest discussion/debate because the work confronts some of the most deeply held precepts of grief professionals such as “the only way out of grief is to work through it—in a series of stages, steps, tasks, phases, passages, or needs." (Page 40) I'll add touchstones to the list.


You can agree or disagree with the author, but a book that challenges us to examine our ingrained theories benefits us in the long run because it forces us to answer the question: WHY do we believe what we believe? In the end, we are either more resolute in our current beliefs and practices, or we adopt new ideas. It's up to each of us to decide.

On a personal note, I have had a change of heart because of this book. I no longer limit myself to prescribed methods of grieving. Konigsberg's message refreshes me: There is no manual of mourning and I can grieve freestyle.The only grief expertise I will ever have is in my own experience of it. Any comfort that I can give will be within the realm of human caring, one griever to another, in the form of peer support.

Except for deleting one section and a few links, I am not making major changes on this site just because I appreciate The Truth About Grief. I have a large list of recommended grief books here. I have read most of them and have found something of value in each of them. Grief books can comfort us. Therapy can help us sort it all out. Support groups can let us know that we are not alone. Writing can provide an outlet for strong emotions. Comfort comes in many forms and your grieving heart will tell you what you need, or don't need, to mourn the death of your loved one. There is no right way/wrong way here. When it comes to grief, whatever works, works.

William James, a psychologist and philosopher, wrote: "A new idea is first condemned as ridiculous, then dismissed as trivial, until finally, it becomes what everybody knows." I thank the author for providing a different way to consider grief. Whether or not the book withstands the test of time and becomes "what everybody knows" remains to be seen. 

Ruth Davis Konigsberg is a journalist and The Truth About Grief is well researched with 42 pages of endnotes/references. I recommend the book for grievers and grief counselors alike because the author provides fresh perspectives on grief and the burgeoning grief industry.

I'll end with a quote from the back cover: "My intention is not to diminish the experience [of grief], which is painful and must be respected as such, but to reframe it in such a way that is liberating, both for those who have yet to face it and those who are currently in its throes."



Go to next section: How to Help Others

The Grieving Heart is getting a new home...
Grief has no timetable, but the launch of a new website does: August 1, 2019.                                                                     
The updated design will be easy to use, secure and mobile-friendly.
Please visit again. Thank you!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

My E-mail:

Christine (at) The Grieving Heart (dot) info 

A Word About E-mail: One way to decrease SPAM caused by Internet bots is to deactivate the live address link. You can still contact me by typing this address into your own e-mail program using @, a period, and no spaces, the standard e-mail format. Thank you.

Note to Visitors:
I read and respond to grief email at the end of each month when I update this site. If you need a more timely response, please visit a well moderated grief healing discussion group. It is free to use and requires registration to participate. I am not part of this group, but certified grief counselors are there to help, support and comfort grievers and those who love them. Because the counselors lost funding for the site, they are grateful for voluntary donations.
Why no links to Facebook and other social media? Click here for the answer.   


How complicated and individual mending is,
the time required for healing
cannot be measured against any fixed calendar
Mary Jane Moffat
© Copyright 2008 - 2019 Christine Jette.
All rights reserved.