Discuss the climax and conclusion of "The Management of Grief" by Bharati Mukherjee.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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“The Management of Grief” is based on a devastating airplane crash of Air India Flight in 1985. The story demonstrates how different people handle the grave loss of family members.  The story hopes to show how to and how not to deal with the loss; in addition, it explains how to start over.

The narration is third person with the narrator telling the story from the perspective of Shaila Bhave, who lost her husband and two sons in the crash.  Although grief-stricken, Shaila manages to stay calm amidst the commotion; hence, she is able to make more reliable observations of the best way to get beyond the desolation from such an unimaginable event.

Shaila initialy is numb like so many who are left behind. She learns quicklly that her survival depends on how she handles her grief.  Her first question demands understanding the “why”:

  • Why does God give us so much if all along He intends to take it away?

Of course, there is no answer to that question.

Conflict

Shaila’s conflict throughout the story is how to move on in her life.  As a caring, sensitive person, she also wants to help others who are stuck in their grief.

How the government handles the tragedy also is examined.  The clumsy mistakes of the Canadian government are explored.  Shaila works briefly in an effort to help the agencies involved take care of those who are stuck and having difficulty finding their way out of the tragedy.

The air crash happened over the ocean.  Some victims’ bodies were recovered.  Many were not.  Shaila’s loved ones were never located. This left Shaila in a state of limbo.  She hoped that they were alive since they were not found. Her mind knows that this is not the case, but she lacked closure. 

The author parallels Shaila’s recovery with her neighbor Kasum.  Kasum’s husband was found, but her daughter’s body was never recovered.  Now Kasum has difficulty relating to her other daughter and the rest of her family.  She goes to an ashram, or retreat, in an effort to find peace.

At one point in her struggle, Kasum considers suicide by going to the place in the ocean where the crash occurred and joining her daughter. By the end of the story, Kasum tells Shaila that she has inner peace and serenity. Unfortunately, Kasum and the other daughter no longer communicated.

During her recovery, Shaila travels with her parents and other widows and widowers.  She visits Ireland near the place that the plane crashed.  The Irish people were very supportive and kind unlike the reaction from the Canadian government.

Climax

The climax of the story transpires when Shaila goes to India with other widows and widowers. At a retreat, Shaila sees a vision of her husband. 

He tells her: ‘You’re beautiful. What are you doing here?’

‘Shall I stay?’ I ask. 
He only smiles but already the image is fading. 

‘You must finish alone what we started together.’  No seaweed wreathes his mouth. He is gone.

From this encounter, Shaila responds by trying to move forward with her life. After meeting a dentist who also lost family members, she begins to correspond with him.  She returns to Canada and sells her house.  Her life becomes one of waiting, listening, and praying.  Yet, she has no joy. 

 Again, she hears the voices of her family. They tell her:

‘Your time has come… Go, be brave.

She places a package she was carrying on the bench, symbolically leaving her old life behind. Shaila walks forward to find a life of healing and hope.

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