The Management of Grief

by Bharati Mukherjee

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In what ways might the story “The Management of Grief” resemble that of any grieving wife or mother, or any victim of terrorism?

“The Management of Grief” describes the many reactions that people who are grieving loved ones. Some manage to hold themselves together on the surface even as they suffer underneath. Others grieve wildly and loudly. Some turn to spirituality for relief. Others are angry and throw themselves into work. Still others strive to move on with their lives, while some refuse to accept the tragedy at all.

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The story “The Management of Grief” by Bharati Mukherjee explores the many different ways people deal with their grief when tragedy occurs and they lose loved ones.

The narrator, Shaila, loses her husband and sons when a terrorist bombs a plane. She actually remains quite in control of herself, mostly maintaining a calm numbness but also the ability to think and function. She does, however, also hold onto an irrational hope that her sons may have somehow survived, even though she knows it is highly unlikely. Since their bodies are never found, Shaila lacks the closure she really needs. She tries to continue her life in Canada rather than remaining in India with her family, but she feels like she is floating and cannot decide what to do with herself now that her family is gone.

Shaila's friend Kusum loses her husband and daughter in the same attack. Kusum responds quite differently. She wails and grieves openly and loudly, even saying that if she didn't have another daughter, she would hang herself. In the long term, Kusum deals with her grief by remaining in India and seeking spiritual enlightenment.

Kusum's other daughter, Pam, deals with her grief first by lashing out at her mother. She says that she knows her mother would rather she had died than her sister, for her sister was the good one. Pam is rebellious and westernized. She eventually moves to Vancouver where she works in a department store.

Dr. Ranganathan loses his wife in the attack. Unlike many of the other widowers who succumb to family pressure and remarry almost at once, the doctor remains alone. Even when he takes a job in another city, he refuses to sell the house he and his wife shared even though he has a long commute. Eventually, though, he moves to Texas although he remains in touch with Shaila. He tells no one in his new city anything about his past.

The elderly couple that loses two sons in the attack remains in a state of non-acceptance. They refuse to believe that their sons are dead. They will come back to take care of them, the couple firmly maintains. It is a parent's duty to hope. They refuse to accept government assistance even though they are on the verge of losing everything they have.

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