A How-To-Guide for Grief in Bharati Mukherjee’s “The Management of Grief”

  “‘They think that signing a paper is signing their sons’ death warrants, don’t they?’ I am looking out the window. I want to say, In our culture, it is a parent’s duty to hope.”

~ Shaila (pg. 446)

Bharati Mukherjee’s short story “The Management of Grief” is a heartbreaking, despondent story about an Indian community in Canada, who is grieving over the loss of their family members in a plane crash. The story begins with a scene from the narrator’s, Shaila’s, kitchen as she dimly describes the unfamiliar Indian women and her family doctor bustling around her house making tea and comforting one another. The doctor notes Shaila’s calm outward appearance and attributes her tranquil state to the calming pills he gave her. But Shaila mentally notes that she is calm because she is consumed by the screams of her husband and two sons. A Canadian woman, Judith Templeton, who works for the government is in charge of ensuring the wellness of the families who have lost their loved ones. Realizing she is having a hard time connecting with the families because she is unfamiliar with the Indian culture, Judith asks Shaila to accompany her on her trips, hoping that Shaila will force them to accept their losses. Shaila agrees but after the first two families, Shaila refuses to assist Judith any longer because she is asking these Indian families to stop hoping, which is against their culture. The story follows Shaila as she comes to terms with the loss of her family and begins to piece back together her life.

“The Management of Grief” is written as something like a how-to-guide of dealing with loss; become a new person: remarry as soon as possible, sell your old house and move somewhere else, get a new job, and finally begin a new personal voyage. Shaila is caught between two cultures that have very different perspectives on how to grieve. Her family who lives in India believes she needs to remarry quickly because a woman should have a man to take of her. In Canada the people pressure her to recreate a life that is centered on her wants and not care-giving. By the end of the story Shaila decides to find her own personal voyage after hearing the advice from her dead family. Although I applaud Shaila for deciding how to deal with her grief when torn between two cultures, I believe that she and the Indian community in Canada were influenced so much by the two cultures that they did not choose the right way to grieve for themselves. They attempted to become new people too quickly and as a result were constantly searching for their dead loved ones. Her friend Kusum writes Shaila telling her she found a young girl who was the exact replica of her dead daughter, singing her daughter’s favorite song. The doctor left his whole life behind him and moved to Texas where he has vowed to never tell his story, forcing him to dwell in a mute, depth-less life. And Shaila herself could not make a decision without hearing the voice of her husband telling her what to do. Their dependence on their dead families proves they never healed from the loss of their families. They do not want to stop grieving for their families; they want to hope their families are still with them so they cannot lose them again.

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