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The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us about Life After Loss

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  485 ratings  ·  89 reviews
We tend to understand grief as a predictable five-stage process of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But in The Other Side of Sadness, George Bonanno shows that our conventional model discounts our capacity for resilience. In fact, he reveals that we are already hardwired to deal with our losses efficiently--not by graduating through static phases. ...more
Hardcover, 231 pages
Published September 22nd 2009 by Basic Books (AZ) (first published 2009)
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Apr 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book is written by someone unable to grieve - it was upsettingly detached. Anyone currently struggling with acute, intense loss, steer clear.
Feb 17, 2010 rated it it was ok
His thesis is essentially, "It's ok to get over your grief quickly!" Which I frankly don't find all that helpful or relevant.
Thomas Holbrook
Nov 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Everyone experiences the losses of important people in their world. Because of this truth, when one seeks the help of a Mental Health professional, one of the major areas of evaluation during intake is to assess the level of grief each individual. The language of “Grief Work” or the “Work of Mourning” is deeply ingrained the nomenclature of counseling profession, accepted as a matter-of-course as a result of the “research” of grief and its effects. Grief is thought to be of such importance that ...more
Amy Alkon
Aug 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
There's an anecdote in the book about a woman who lost her daughter in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Of course...obviously...she would rather have not lost her daughter, but in reflection, she said that it probably ended up making her a better person. She thought about people differently and she treated people differently because of it. That’s just one of the many unexpected things I learned about from reading Dr. George A. Bonanno’s surprisingly uplifting book which also turns to research (by ...more
May 19, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: bereavement
I tried reading this last year about 6 months after my son died, and couldn't finish it. I lost my mother 20 years ago, and my father a year before my son. His subject for a bereaved parent was a close friend who lost a daughter in New York on 9-11. Not very objective. He had a couple meetings with her toward the end of the first year of the daughter's death. He discussed with her how "well" she was doing. She had created a foundation in her daughter's name and was functioning, could laugh, go ...more
Linda Halverson
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was exactly what I needed -- an affirming and hopeful read that helped me connect my head (and intellectualizing why I feel the way I do about the loss of my loved one) and my heart (all the whys and what ifs and oh-my-God he's gone and how to fill the seemingly impossible hole he's left in our lives). It gave me the intellectual permission I needed to grieve, a heads up for when that grief might be problematic, and the heart-warming hope that time will heal and that I will be ...more

A strange book. Part statistical, part biographical, part polite and overall unbiased reconnaissance of spiritual beliefs, part tourist guide. An interesting reading to give yourself a paradigm on how we deal with death, it says what people do, how it can go wrong and mostly how the people that handle it better manage to do so. It's not a self help book, and as the author says you should probably avoid this and any other book on dealing with death up to 4-6 months from a traumatic event, but

Jun 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
I was disappointed in the end. Was looking for a scientific approach to grief (which the title promises) but the author completely loses the plot at the 'afterlife' section. I felt very much as if he was pushing his own beliefs and substantiating them with selective research. The first part held promise - but that only serves to worsen my disappointment. Overall, I don't find the book very scientific at all.
Dec 12, 2009 rated it liked it
Have learned a lot from this book. Those 5 stages of grieving were originally for people who were dying, not for people who lost someone. More later...
Nov 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: health, finished-2019
It started off so strong and then faded rapidly after about halfway through. The digressions at the end of the book about his trips to China and his brief summaries of how non-Western cultures act after a death seemed like padding to me.

Perhaps he felt the need to pad the book because there still isn't a lot of current research about bereavement? I was surprised at how many therapists still follow outdated & incorrect research. Freud? Really?!

Some quotes from the book:

Grief is a human
Jun 23, 2018 rated it liked it
I'd recommend this book for anyone who has known someone going through grief, or to someone just trying to understand what grief looks like. I thought the author brought an interesting perspective to the grieving process -- what we've generally been taught is "normal" stages of grief isn't necessarily so. Based on his and others' research on the subject it seems that the people who just can't seem to get over a loss and move on are the abnormal ones. Most of us are "resilient" and will continue ...more
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gal
This is a book for clinicians, plain and simple. Bonanno's theory is that the science of resilience proves that you will be better eventually, because as humans we are built to persevere. That sort of information is probably helpful to professionals in a clinical setting, and could certainly be folded into part of a sympathetic response to someone suffering... But in a book, it came off as cold and unsympathetic to the profoundly painful struggle of "moving on."
Jan 21, 2020 rated it liked it
For me, this book redeemed itself when Bonanno began talking about his experience in China and delved into his own grief process. I thought his notion of resilience was interesting but question how applicable it is to many people who are working through grief. I liked how he discussed the meaning of grief and death in other cultures, but was a bit thrown off by the resilience piece overall.
Anna Groover
For class
Aug 01, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book has been on my reading list for a long time. I figured that, with the recent, sudden passing of my mother, now would be a good time to finally read a book about bereavement.

This is not a how-to about working your way through grief. Rather, it is what the byline suggests, a look at what the latest research suggests about the mechanics of human bereavement. Bonanno is a psychologist whose field of research is grief, so he knows what he's talking about. Much to my surprise, this is a
Karla Huebner
This accessible but research-based book looks at the various ways in which people grieve, and concludes that the notions of "grief work" and stages of grief (taken from Kubler-Ross's work on people who were themselves dying) are not supported by evidence. People grieve in different ways and differently for different people, and resilience after the death of a loved one doesn't mean that one is repressing grief.
Given that I've lost what seems like a ridiculous number of friends and family members
Rev Z
Oct 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is the most current book of which I am aware reporting on this subject and directed toward the general population.
Bonanno examines the evidence for the validity of the conventional five-stage grief model and finds it not just lacking but non-existent. His own research reporting begins with the human capacity for resilience and demonstrates that most of us possess and use this trait in the aftermath of any tragedy. His findings show that we regularly experience brief moments of happiness
Aug 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
research tells us that generally we are resilient beings, case studies reveal the aberrations where we become obsessed with loss and then lose our way, but not the norm. Indescriminant intervention can interfere with the natural process, as in case after 2004 tsunami in Indonesia where WHO called off counselors unless people wanted it. Discovered that instead of 4 months, roughly, recovery took years. Not terrific writing but compelling material.
Cyndie Katz
Oct 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I started reading this book immediately after my son died and was encouraged to read that most people are resilient in the face of loss. I was also encouraged to read that methods of coping vary tremendously. Then I put the book down for many months and only recently picked it up again. It's very helpful and I highly recommend it, not just for those who have lost loved ones, but for those who "can't imagine what it's like."
Aug 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Even though it says some obvious things, and veers off in tangents having to do with the author's personal history that don't seem to belong in a book that purports to be about the science of grieving, the good news is that people don't have to feel beholden to a schedule of bereavement such as the Kubler Ross' step system describes. Bonanno has new studies that show many many people are resilient after the death of an important person in their lives.
Jett Clark
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned, death
Probably the best book on why we grieve and how we should grieve that there is. Bonanno isn't here to offer much in the way of answers--to say whether you're grieving right or wrong. He's here to indict (very kindly) the people who are telling you whether you're grieving right or wrong, and advocating for the bereaved, asking would-be saviours to back off and let the mourners breathe/grieve.
I really enjoyed reading about the results of the research on bereavement and grieving. I'm always looking for evidence of the resilience of the human spirit, and this book provides plenty. The first half to two-thirds of the book was stronger than the rest, I thought, and it seemed to just fizzle out rather than end strong.
Katie Layman
Feb 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
I picked this up under the burden of grieving for my father, and it was just the book I needed. Highly recommended, illuminating and wise.
Gina Tobin
Jul 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Helped me tremendously after the loss of my husband. Gave me the hope I needed to move forward.
May 09, 2017 rated it liked it
I bought this book in search of comfort, having suffered several losses in the past two years. It was difficult to select because there are so many on the subject. However, a lot of material written by bereaved people is very emotional and raw emotions are too much for me, at this early stage.

This book is relatively short and quite uneven, but I found some interesting ideas

1. People grieve differently, both according to their personality and the depth of the connection with the deceased. This
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was especially happy to have my ideas about things like grief, coping, and resilience challenged. Its refreshing and empowering to realize that - not - becoming remarkably sentimental about death is not only normal for some people but in many cases appropriate or even perhaps healthier than the alternative of exploring our feelings, memories, and issues within that relationship after the fact.

As a nurse in the ICU, this book has helped me professionally by offering perspective and insight on
Aug 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
My boss's son, who was the same age as me, passed away from metastatic melanoma last month. Her daughter-in-law recommended this to her and she in turn sort of asked me to read it so we could discuss the science in it and just the concepts in general. I lost someone fifteen years ago and still struggle with my feelings of grief from time to time, so I thought it might be helpful to me as well.

I liked this book because it talks about how grief comes and goes in waves, rejecting the whole stages
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm thinking that I liked this book because it jived with my own beliefs and clinical experience - but I don't see this as being helpful for everyone. On the one hand, it is partly scientific, but on the other hand, the clinical cases didn't cover anything near the full range of human experiences. If they did, this would be a wholly other kind of book. As it is, it's a light read that validates some experiences and I'm grateful for that.

I feel like I should dock at least one star just because of
May 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
This was kind of terrible? It's decent as a history of the clinical study of bereavement, but a lot of what it deems as revelatory or new research seems pretty banal now, at least to those who know a thing or two about grief. Like, wow, grief isn't something you can "work" through, or grief doesn't follow linear stages, exciting! Also, it's written in a really detached and cold way, and most of the anecdotes he chooses to share describe people who were like, oh I was sad, but I'm fine now. The ...more
Melissa Mccraw
Oct 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: grief
Began terribly. Insensitive at the start, largely due to poor word choice. For example, he uses "resilient" to describe those who don't really suffer at all after losing a loved one, implying that since I am grieving the loss of my child, I am somehow not resilient. Anyway, I almost put it down, but I'm glad I stuck it out. I think the big issue was that it wasn't what I expected. The book doesn't belong in the self-help section. It's theory and culture and pretty objective and dry. I found it ...more
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“All emotions, including sadness, are designed to be short-term solu­tions. If we remain in a constant state of sadness or feel sad for too long
a time, we run the risk of ruminating and withdrawing from the world
around us. If we express too much sadness, we begin to alienate the
very people whose help and support we most need.”
“There is an advantage, the research shows us, in being op­timistic. People who cope well tend to have an indelible belief that things will somehow turn out OK. They also tend to be confident.
They believe that they will be able to exert at least some control over
the outcome of even the most difficult life events. This is not to say that
optimistic people believe they can undo the past or stop certain things
from happening. Sometimes, even the hardiest of individuals are initially stunned after a tragedy. Nonetheless, fueled by their deep-rooted sense that they can and should be able to move on, they manage to gather their strength, regroup, and work toward restoring the balance in their lives.
Along with these optimistic, self-confident beliefs, people who cope
well also have a broader repertoire of behaviors. Simply put, they seem
to have more tools in their toolboxes. One example is how resilient
people express emotion. We think that, as a general rule, the more we
show what we are feeling, the better off we will be. This is especially
true when bad things happen to us, and it is actually a cornerstone of
the traditional grief work idea.”
More quotes…