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Review of "How We Grieve"

By Thomas Attig
Oxford University Press, 2010
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Aug 23rd 2011
How We Grieve

How We Grieve is a book about grieving.  The author, Professor Thomas Attig, is an applied philosopher.  At the start of Chapter 1, the reader is introduced pithily to several stories of grieving.  As explained in a “Note”, at the chapter’s end, the recounted stories are composites of real life stories.  Over the course of the book, Attig continues to anecdotally add flesh to the bones of these stories about loss through death.  Strands of person specific discourse, tethered to these stories, are interwoven adeptly with threads of more generalized discourse.  The textual soil is richly fertilized intellectually by the seeds of the many ideas implanted by Attig, appertaining to grieving.  An overarching thematic message imparted by the text is that grieving entails relearning.

Structurally, a relatively lengthy “Introduction” is followed by six chapters.

At the end of the respective chapters are “Notes”, providing citations for research  materials referenced in a particular chapter; many of the Notes are annotated.

The substantive body is enshrouded by a cloak of discourse which is notably esoteric in nature.

Writing esoterically, Attig offers a profundity of thoughtful ideas and insights, pertinent to an understanding of grieving.  The thoughtfully idea laden and insightful discourse permeating the text should be of great value to readers searching for fuller understanding of the complexities of grieving.

Expert criticism, of elements of the research literature relating to grieving, forms part of the text’s substance.

A few anecdotal snippets, in the form of quotes, anecdotally make a contribution to the text’s vitality.

Intellectual intensity and much erudition pervade the text throughout.

Grieving as an active response is substantively taken up in detail, in Chapter 2.  In the view of Attig, the coping process of grieving requires an active response.

With a skillfully applied brush, Attig, in Chapter 3, paints a picture showing some of the features of respecting individuals as they grieve.  In expertly opinionated fashion, Attig expounds on what is necessary, in order to respect grieving individuals.  In this enframing context, Attig comments perspicaciously on perceived vulnerabilities of grieving persons.

The substantive essence, of Chapter 4, is rooted deeply in the ground of relearning the world after loss by death.  The thematic concept advanced powerfully by Attig is that loss by death challenges a grieving person to relearn the world.

In penultimate Chapter 5, Attig, exhibiting his customary thoughtfulness and abstruseness, elaborates on grieving persons relearning themselves.

Finally, in concluding Chapter 6, Attig focuses readers’ attention sharply on the area of relearning (by grieving persons) of relationships with the deceased.

From a critical perspective, some authorities may dissent from particular views and ideas put forth by Attig.

With regard to structure,  the book, alternatively, may have been structured as a collection of essays written by contributors equipped professionally to expertly evaluate grieving from an array of relevant perspectives, including possibly:  psychological,  philosophical, sociological, spiritual, ethical, and cultural.

The book’s substance is replete with anecdotal matter, which may cause critical concern.

Additionally, critics may opine that the relatively esoteric nature of Attig’s writing is not tailored optimally to fit lay readers.

But plainly, the efforts of Attig contribute importantly to fuller understanding of grieving.

These efforts may be quite intriguing intellectually to a wide gamut of professionals, encompassing:  psychologists, psychiatrists, bereavement counselors, gerontologists, social workers, sociologists, philosophers, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, behavioral therapists, theologians, clergy members, social scientists, medical ethicists, hospice workers, nursing home personnel, and primary care physicians.


© 2011 Leo Uzych



Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University.  His area of special professional interest is healthcare.  Twitter @LeoUzych