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Review of "Loss"

By David L. Eng and David Kazanjian (Editors)
University of California Press, 2002
Review by Sundeep Nayak, M.D. on Oct 4th 2004

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is widely recognized as one of the foremost authorities in the field of death, dying and transition for over twenty years. She invented this field using thanatological literature from folklore as an area of legitimate discourse in the medical community, after seeing walls in concentration camps in Maidanek filled with pictures of butterflies drawn by children who had lost their families, homes, schools, and everything. She died on August 24, 2004 but her Stage Theory lives on forever, even as it points to our lack of knowledge about, and, by extension, our inability to care for, the dying.

The death of a loved one can impact every aspect of our lives. Everyday routines are disrupted and may be a constant shrill remind of those we will love forever. There is beauty and often mystery surrounding traditional mourning customs. With increasing diversity in the US population, we may feel uncertain about these practices. Every culture has its own traditions for death and mourning. To better understand those around us, it is essential to appreciate the ways other cultures honor their deceased loved ones and express their grief.  The subjects in Loss range from the Irish Famine and the Ottoman slaughter of Armenians to the aftermath of the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa, problems of partial immigration and assimilation, AIDS, and the re-envisioning of leftist movements.

Loss looks into the future by using what we saw in the past, considering "what is lost" in terms of "what remains". The anthology of the politics of mourning shows how melancholia lends meaning and force to notions of activism, ethics, and identity. It is a strong yet profoundly disturbing collection that forces the issue of inquiry into ourselves, posing questions in areas we choose to ignore or mask making loss more productive than pathological, more positive than negative, yet all the while derived of an abstract that inevitably leaves us marked, insuperably and irreversibly. Melancholia becomes the condition by which life is risked, by which the questions of whether one can move, and with whom, and that we are framed and incited by the irreversibility of loss itself. The distinction between melancholia and mourning does not hold because there are inevitably experienced by a configuration of simultaneity and succession. Loss will provoke you and make you quite contemplative.

Read more in:

q                   Kubler-Ross E: Death. 208 pp. Scribner. June 1997

q                   Kubler-Ross E: Life Lessons. 224 pp. Scribner. November 2001

q                   Kubler-Ross E: Living with Death and Dying. 192 pp. Scribner. June 1997

q                   Kubler-Ross E: On Death and Dying. 288 pp. Scribner. June 1997

q                   Kubler-Ross E: On Life After Death. 96 pp. Celestial Arts. August 1991

q                   Kubler-Ross E: The Wheel of Life- A Memoir of Living and Dying. Scribner. June 1998


© 2004 Sundeep Nayak


Dr. Nayak is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Radiology in the University of California School of Medicine San Francisco and his interests include mental health, medical ethics, and gender studies. A voracious reader and intrepid epicure, he enjoys his keyboards too much. He has been trying to understand the mechanism of grief for far too long.

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