“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it,” writes Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking. “We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect the shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind.”
We cannot know, she says, when we lose the person we love—as she lost her husband John Gregory Dunne 11 years ago—“the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.” The tragedy of such grief is that the loss of a loved one is irreversible. It is total and final.
Even so, while some of the grief-stricken remain depressed for long periods of time—developing what’s called “complicated grief”—most people move on. They eventually settle into their old routines or develop new ones. Their lives recover a semblance of order. Sad though they may continue to be, they are no longer held hostage by the chaos of their emotions. They are resilient.
George Bonanno, a clinical psychologist at Columbia University and author of The Other Side of Sadness, has studied grief for over 20 years. Among his most provocative findings is that 50 to 60 percent of mourners show no symptoms of grief one month following the loss. Some even overcome the grief within days.
What drives these people forward? What holds the others back? And why do some mourners recover from grief quickly—much more quickly—than others? Psychologists who study these questions note that there is no single factor that predicts who copes well and who does not. Many variables, from your personality to your social world to your levels of stress before the loss, play distinct roles.
A new study, though, hints at an answer. There is a specific way many people can, no matter what their circumstances may be, transcend despair and distress. Continue reading at The Atlantic.