A modern tour of grief and grieving, braiding together the author’s experience with his own grief, the sociocultural history of grieving rites and beliefs, and the modern therapies and industry being built around grieving today.
THE GRIEF CURE:
The High-Stakes Business of Making Tragedy Disappear
by Cody Delistraty
Ecco Press, September 2023
(via DeFiore and Co.))
When we actually talk about it, it’s mostly behind closed doors: in therapist’s offices, in support groups, or with close friends and family, if they’re willing to listen. There are few human experiences as hugely universal, and yet as intensely private, as grief. A wave of public sympathy is offered when tragedy occurs, but then we’re expected to work through our feelings on our own, with the goal of returning to normal life as soon as possible.
This was writer and critic Cody Delistraty’s expectation after his mother died of cancer. Except he found himself struggling with how little of a roadmap there was for his grief—or the way that it derailed his life, defying commonly-held notions of what normal mourning might look and feel like. He began to ask himself: was it possible that he was grieving wrong? Did other people actually feel like this? That dissonance sparked the beginning of an obsession: to understand how we handle tragedy and grief today, and how his own feelings measured up.
What he found, through both reporting and academic study, is that our modern conception of grief is different than it’s been through much of history. Since about the Second World War, Americans have largely believed they should grieve alone and get over it. This attitude is relatively new—historically, grief has had a commonly accepted place in public life—but our highly individual, productivity-obsessed culture has transformed grief into a solitary experience, and one we think of as a form of virtuous work.
THE GRIEF CURE takes the reader through our contemporary understanding of grieving—and how so many of our foundational notions, like the five stages of grief, deeply miss the mark. The book then moves through the big business that has emerged to capitalize on this private and commodified form of mourning: the Silicon Valley companies developing a technological cure to grief, grifters selling quick solutions, the consultants treating tragedy as a productivity drag. Drawing deeply on a cultural and social history of grief and tragedy, as well as those on the forefront of developing new communal approaches to mourning, the book finally looks towards what more functional responses to grief might look like moving forward.
Cody Delistraty is the culture editor at The Wall Street Journal Magazine. He has written essays and criticism for The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic and, while living in Paris for several years, he was the European arts columnist for The Paris Review. He has degrees in politics from New York University and history from the University of Oxford. British Vogue named him a best young writer of the year; and he has given corporate talks about tragedy, art, and creativity to companies like PwC.