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A 100 years of pathologising normalcy of grief

02 April 2024
Volume 29 · Issue 4

Death has a tendency to trigger different reactions, one of which is the expression of grief by families and loved ones. To support bereaved relatives, counsellors, therapists, educationalists and researchers have relied on theoretical constructs they believe are best placed to be effective and enable the bereaved to adjust and ‘move on’ with their lives again. The constructs focus on different outcomes to be achieved by the bereaved. For example, in order to adjust and cope, the bereaved need to:

These ideas are influenced by a range of schools of thought, all aimed at helping the bereaved cope. While constructs have a place, we need to reflect on life and relationships we form with other people, and then tailor prevailing constructs to ensure individuality and achieve person-centred care.

While adults develop relationships with family members, close friends and acquaintances, Bowlby (1988) has indicated that with reference to children, these relationships develop into attachment bonds which are deeply held the closer (emotionally) the child gets with the other person. Arguably, this also happens in adulthood. Attachment bonds suggest deep emotional affection for the other person, and children often develop such bonds with parents as they grow up. Adults may widen their scope of bondage as they meet different people, but what is crucial to suggest here is that the closer the relationship is emotionally, the deeper the affectionate bonds between them. It follows that the deeper the bond, the harder the death (loss) is felt, and therefore, the grief that follows such death is expected to be painful. While this may seem logical and plausible, the question that would baffle many is why such reaction is often pathologised. For example, the bereaved find themselves being referred to counsellors and therapists, and yet, what they are doing is going through a normal reaction (sadness, crying, shock, feeling lonely and empty) to a very painful experience of breaking the affectionate bond. In such situations, grief should be viewed and treated as a normal reaction to a painful loss/death.

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