Book Review: Anxiety
The Missing Stage of Grief
ANXIETY IS VERY MUCH a part of our modern lives. It’s also an extremely common response to the death of a loved one.
In Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief, Claire Bidwell Smith draws on the personal loss of both of her parents and on her profession as a grief counselor to outline clear and concrete steps for managing, and eventually overcoming, the anxiety that can accompany grief.
Building on the Kübler-Ross model and the five stages of grief, Smith explores how anxiety connected to grief tends to emerge from three places: an attempt to push away or suppress the grief process, the reminder that a loss brings up life’s inherent uncertainty, and the nature of the death itself. In a culture that doesn’t create space for expressions of grief, the subconscious deals with grief through panic attacks, anxious thoughts, hopelessness, and depression.
Smith delves into why so many people suppress grief— in short, we live in a “get over it” culture—and into what happens when we stifle our stories of loss: “Namely, we lose the opportunity to really explore that story, to unpack it, to deeply understand it, and to give it a home outside of our bodies.”
But it doesn’t have to be this way, Smith makes clear. Her detailed strategies offer a clear guide for expressing loss. Two of them stand out: continuing to cultivate a relationship with the dead through letter writing, visualizations, and more; and taking time to contemplate what happens when we die.
Make no mistake, Smith doesn’t offer platitudes about peace in the great beyond. What she does provide is far more powerful, and ultimately healing. We cannot bring the dead back, but we can honor their lives and recall their essence. It’s not only a way to overcome anxiety connected to grief, but also a way to infuse our lives with deeper meaning, in the here and now. —ALIZAH SOLARIO