Accommodating Loss

By Chandler, Anne | Phi Kappa Phi Forum, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Accommodating Loss

Chandler, Anne, Phi Kappa Phi Forum

In "Good Grief," an article in The New-Yorker on Feb. 1, author Meghan O'Rourke detailed the history of changes in mourning over the last century or so and offered explanations for the shift from public recognition of death to a more private form of mourning. Death is less a part of our lives, she implied. For example, seldom do multiple generations live together anymore. And death has been removed from the home to the sterile confines of the hospital, while funeral parlors now take care of the body. Death has become an unknown, thus, something to fear; acknowledging it or demonstrating distress over it adds to our discomfort. O'Rourke also noted conspicuous exceptions of current privatized mourning by citing deaths of celebrities (e.g., Princess Diana of Wales and Michael Jackson) whose passing occasioned widespread public involvement.


I concur with her about the movement toward the privatization of grief. I'd add that this is an unfortunate development. As a licensed professional counselor, I believe that in our desire to keep grief private, we have (especially in Western culture) unwittingly created a population ignorant of the variety of ways people grieve loss.

That ignorance leads to experiences in which the individual dealing with a loss suffers secondary distress because the intensity of grief is seen not as "normal," but as prima facie evidence that there must be something "wrong" with the sufferer. And that's usually not true. In my clinical work, I have observed that loss is a necessary and intimate part of living and must be accommodated. (My field tries to avoid the word "recovery" because it implies a return to an original state, and in loss, that rarely happens.) However, for most people, understanding loss and how to accommodate it is not a process which with they are familiar. The subtitle of O'Rourke's piece is, "Is There a Better Way to Grieve?" The answer is yes.

Interpreting loss

Loss can be conceptualized in a variety of ways. Tangible losses are those we can see: death of a loved one; downsizing of a job; ashes of a burned building; physical deterioration of aging; the move of adult offspring away from their childhood home. Intangible losses are psychosocial and involve no visible manifestation: loss of expectations of a happy marriage in divorce; parental disappointment in a child's poor choices; the realization that one has advanced in one's career as far as possible.

The paradox of loss is that it has neither positive nor negative valence, even though we tend to inflect it one way or the other. Rather, loss is a necessary and, if you think about it, neutral concomitant to change in one's life. For example, for a couple to marry, both parties must relinquish their current status and perception of themselves as independent individuals (lose something) in order to wed (gain something). Or when a student graduates, the use of the term "bittersweet" in commencement speeches reflects the acknowledgement that something has to end for something new to begin. So, even as one embraces what is expected to be a fulfillment, a lack is always occurring.

Confronting loss

There have been numerous attempts to build a model of accommodating losses. In 1944 Erich Lindemann, chief of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and an early researcher in the field, suggested tasks that must be completed to come to terms with loss. They included accepting the fact of the loss, adjusting to life without the deceased and forming new relationships. Various phase-based theories have been posited, most suggesting an initial state of shock followed by various emotional responses like anger and guilt, and then a reestablishment to former functioning. (See, for example, Robert E. Kavanaugh, Facing Death, 1972, and J. William Worden, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, 1991.) Most famously, in 1969 psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross published her groundbreaking treatise, On Death and Dying, which argued that people went through five stages to deal with loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Accommodating Loss


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.