We in funeral service talk about grief as if it fits in one tidy little definition which goes something like this–someone dies, we have to say good-bye with visitations and funerals, we feel hurt and sad for a long time (and sometimes families come unglued in the process), and one day we feel better.
George Clooney‘s new movie The Descendants turns that traditional definition inside out. In it you see a man and his two daughters come to grips with the accident induced coma and eventual death of wife/mother, and in the end the movie portrays a closeness and peace among the three survivors they had never known when the woman lived. That the characters have not changed appearance in the final scene also suggests that very little time has passed between the time of death and this cozy gathering on the couch without Mom.
Life does not follow this pattern very often. Experience tells me that most times a tragic loss leads to a period of chaos and disruption for the family involved.
But the movie is a reminder that death and loss and grief and recovery take many shapes and forms. The old “stages of grief” model taught in every Psychology 101 course for 40 years or more, does not tell the whole story, and “normal” grief doesn’t follow one and only one path.