The Management of Grief

by Bharati Mukherjee

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What is the significance of the title of Bharati Mukherjee's story, "The Management of Grief"?

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The title "The Management of Grief" encapsulates the plot of a story that is about how people, particularly the main character, Shaila Bhave, manage grief, and yet it is ironic too: it is only when Shaila gives up trying to "manage" and "assess" her situation and accept uncertainty that she is free to move on with her life.

As the story opens, a Canadian social worker named Judith Templeton has been hired to help the Indians who have lost their loved ones in a plane disaster. Her goal is to help them manage their grief: she fully believes grief can be "managed" and will later talk to Shaila about the stages of grief. Judith has little idea what to do, as she freely admits: she has never dealt with a disaster of this magnitude and she doesn't understand the Indian culture of the survivors. She is critical of the ways the Indians manage, calling some of the women "hysterical" and later wondering that some of the men remarry so quickly. When Judith asks Shaila for help in helping people to cope, Shaila responds that "we must all grieve in our own way." 

Shaila tries denial, hoping that somehow her husband and sons managed to survive the plane explosion, and even refusing to identify what obviously must be the photo of her dead son Vinod. As her friend Dr. Ranganathan says, "it is a parent's duty to hope." After she accepts the deaths, she begins to bond with other survivors and she travels to India. In India with her wealthy parents, she realizes that she "flutter[s] between two worlds." 

Shaila finds some comfort and "management" through her faith, in which she communes with the spirits of her dead loved ones. Her dead husband tells her to go on with the work they began together. 

Back in Canada, Shaila continues to try to manage her grief. While "deep in the Toronto winter, grey skies, icy pavements," Shaila tries to "assess my situation, how best to live my life." Some of her Indian friends have literally moved on to Vancouver or to Texas. One "rare, beautiful, sunny day," Shaila walks through a park. She looks through the still barren branches up at "the clear blue sky." Against this clarity of nature, which mirrors the inner clarity she now experiences, she hears the voices of her family a final time, telling her "your time has come ... Go, be brave." At this point, she drops the idea of managing her grief and of needing to "assess my situation." This liberates her: "I do not know where this voyage I have begun will end. I do not know which direction I will take. I ... started walking." 

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