Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome (Soffer & Birkner)

Book #11, read October/November 2018

Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome (Rebecca Soffer & Gabrielle Birkner)

Modern Loss is media outfit and movement dedicated to just that: the redefinition of grief in the modern age. Grief has apparently changed in a variety of ways. Some of the very obvious ones are technological, for instance. Now your correspondence with the deceased can come up during an innocuous, unrelated Gmail search, Facebook’s memory resurfacing features sometimes really miss the mark, etc.

The (less explicitly-discussed) change is people’s new willingness to expose their grief in the confessional style so loved (and love-hated) by the internet at large. Of course, people in the past wrote about grief! But it was the way that people in the past wrote about anything – largely perceived now as stuffy, stilted, etc. Now, we gush. We emote. We let whatever’s there hang out.

This confessional climate certainly has its upsides – many of the bereaved who previously would have been isolated now find community (link to hot young widows club). I have no wish that they hadn’t! People who previously thought they were literally alone in their complicated grief find they’re not. That’s mostly good for them, according to them at least.

My personal impulse is usually to handle things alone though, and this prolonged anticipatory grief has been no different. I’d rather talk to no one than someone who doesn’t really understand, and (despite trying – in support groups, in therapy) I haven’t yet gotten the gut feeling that any individual I’ve encountered does really understand. I remind myself that, although this grief is clearly mine alone to process, everyone I know will eventually have to follow their own version of this path (I guess unless they themselves die before they can experience deep loss, which is a loss of its own). That’s enough solidarity for me.

So, maybe I’m just projecting, but I don’t know if this confessional style is a net gain. I verge on the side of thinking others might need to swallow the bitter pill that grief just is lonely, too. That it just is private, and that that may be part of the problem – that inherent, inextricable problem of grief.

I might be the only Modern Loss reader with reservations about this confessional style, as judging from the glowing Amazon reviews. Maybe I am just the face of pointless privacy and isolation against which Modern Loss stands in opposition! Hard to say.

Modern Loss tries to be relatable in its openness and honesty, but it also is geared towards a totally general audience. There is just no way to do this gracefully. A few of the authors and their essays really spoke to me, and for that I am thankful. More of them were just breezy, boring reads, but I feel guilty for thinking someone else’s grief is boring. One or two of the essays, I found completely repulsive. I didn’t feel guilty about that, though. If your situation is relatable, and/or your spirit is open to feeling related to, then this format is fine and good. On the other hand, maybe not so much.

You aren’t obligated to like people’s writing just because it’s true and bare (though you may, and that’s fine too). Modern Loss is a book for readers who’d rather hear from specific other people writing as their unique selves, rather than from authors who serve as representatives of academic findings or non-subjective truths. Maybe that’s up your alley, maybe it isn’t. As for me, I will keep traveling the mostly-oddly-satisfying, mostly-solitary road of grief, with what I take to be objective truths as my guide.