Dealing with Grief in the Lovely Bones

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The characters in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones are faced with the difficult task of overcoming the loss of Susie, their daughter and sister. Jack, Abigail, Buckley, and Lindsey each deal with the loss differently. However, it is Susie who has the most difficulty accepting the loss of her own life. Several psychologists separate the grieving process into two main categories: intuitive and instrumental grievers. Intuitive grievers communicate their emotional distress and “experience, express, and adapt to grief on a very affective level” (Doka, par. 27). Instrumental grievers focus their attention towards an activity, whether it is into work or into a hobby, usually relating to the loss (Doka par. 28). Although each character deals with their grief differently, there is one common denominator: the reaction of one affects all.

Jack Salmon, Susie’s father, is most vocal about his sorrow for losing his daughter. However, his initial reaction was much different. Upon hearing that Susie’s ski hat had been found, he immediately retreats upstairs because “he [is] too devastated to reach out to [Abigail] sitting on the carpet…he could not let [her] see him” (Sebold 32). Jack retreats initially because he did not know what to do or say to console his family and he did not want them to see him upset. This first reaction, although it is small, is the first indicator of the marital problems to come. After recovering from the initial shock, Jack decides that he must bring justice for his daughter’s sake and allows this goal to completely engulf his life. He is both an intuitive and instrumental griever, experiencing outbursts of uncontrolled emotions then channeling that emotion into capturing the killer. He focuses his efforts in such an extreme way that he does not allow anyone to get in his way, not even his wife or the law. He uses his need to find Susie’s killer as a way to keep his mind off the fact that she is no longer with him, believing that if he finds the killer he may find Susie. He has difficulties recognizing when to express emotions, causing his family members to continually feel like he is not emotionally present. His constant guilt for not being able to save his daughter causes him to withdraw from his family. Although he keeps himself busy, Jack still becomes overcome with grief at times, leading him to break the bottled ships that he and Susie worked on. He also attempts to replace the emptiness by developing a relationship with Lindsey. Jack tries to make up for the absence of Lindsey’s mother by helping her learn to shave, although the subject is quickly changed to Susie. Jack’s determination to catch the killer clouds his sense of parental judgment as he encourages Lindsey to break into Mr. Harvey’s house. This instance shows how lost and out of touch with reality he has become. His grief also prevents him from developing a strong relationship with his son, Buckley, who constantly feels overshadowed by his older sister’s death. His severe reactions greatly affect the relationships he still has, driving his wife away and forcing Lindsey to grow up prematurely. By holding so tightly to his memories with Susie, he fails to create new, happy memories with his two children.

Abigail Salmon’s emotional journey is comparable to a roller coaster. She is both an intuitive and instrumental griever. She initially screams and cries openly but soon becomes numb to her surroundings and distant. Instead of reuniting and supporting her family, she turns away and finds herself unable to be happy while doing her duties as a household wife. She dreams of immolation, which symbolizes her desire to be set free from the constraints placed on her by her loss and also for her wish to die in place of Susie. Because Susie was her first born child, Susie was the reason that Abigail had settled into a motherly role. Upon her death, Abigail feels freed from this duty but is also unaware as to who she is as a person. In an unsuccessful...
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