… by cynical commercial interests in this country strengthens as the new Diagnostic Manual, with its piling up and pilling up on simple mourning, looms. What can we do to soften this latest blow to our emotional privacy, our right to our sorrow?

“I have my own cosmology of pain,” protests the writer Bill Gray in Don DeLillo’s novel, Mao II: ” Leave me alone with it.” But America’s famous pathetic drug deaths, coming in now at the rate of about one every couple of months, pierce through any denial we might entertain about the polis of polypharmacy, everyone here, it seems, a dispenser or devotee of anti-experience chemicals.


I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –

That was Emily Dickinson, expressing the sympathetic curiosity we all have about the grieving – wondering if the grief of others is like our grief; wondering about its origins, its intensity, its nature. Grief – the clean honest passion that hurled John Marcher, finally, onto the grave of his beloved and thereby told him, finally, of that love… Like Dickinson, he looks directly into the eyes of a fellow mourner at the cemetery, and he sees what grief is – he sees the having loved deeply that elicits it:

The stranger passed, but the raw glare of his grief remained, making our friend wonder in pity what wrong, what wound it expressed, what injury not to be healed. What had the man had, to make him by the loss of it so bleed and yet live?

We scrutinize our grief; we scrutinize the grief of others. We know that our grief is in some way – a way of which we can be proud – a measure of the love we were able to experience and express.

And though I may not guess the kind –
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –

To note the fashions – of the Cross –
And how they’re mostly worn –
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like my own –

Marcher, Dickinson, all of us: We observe the grief of others, and the grief that is our own. And from that we derive along with pain, comfort. Comfort because the grief of others, whatever its source, is mostly like our own — the capacity to grieve is in itself a form of reassurance, an admission into the human theater, an instance of solidarity, an encounter with what’s most valuable, really, in ourselves, and in others.

Yet now we read those initial lines differently:


I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –

Those are our pill dispensers, our under-informed, over-worked family doctors, glancing at the latest DSM on their desk as they measure our grief with narrow eyes and write a prescription for the Xanax on which Whitney Houston was so dependent.

It’s not enough merely to protest, as Allen Frances and so many others are eloquently and ceaselessly doing, pharma’s theft of what’s most intimate and what’s best about us. We have to remind ourselves what grief is.

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2 Responses to “UD’s Sadness Over the Medicalization of Grief…”

  1. Mike S. Says:

    What can we do to soften this latest blow to our emotional privacy, our right to our sorrow?

    here’s my response: psychiatry is quackery, mind your own business & don’t tell me how to feel.

    and you know, maybe throw in some four letter words for good measure

  2. dmf Says:

    medicine understands the concept of pain but has no place for suffering
    http://www.radioopensource.org/my-evening-with-joan-didion/

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