We cannot escape death and grief, so we must learn how to deal with them.
Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death, and Surviving
by Julia Samuel
Reviewed by Elizabeth H. Cottrell
4 stars out of 5
[NOTE: this is a more detailed review than the one I posted on Amazon and Goodreads.]
Grief Works was highly recommended by a guest on Anne Bogel's “What Shall I Read Next?” podcast as a book that was enormously illuminating about the ways people grieve and how best to help them. It both delivered and disappointed. The importance of books like this is reflected in this startling statistic: 15% of all psychological disorders (at least in the U.K.) have unresolved grief as their source.
The author is a British psychotherapist with the NHS and private practice. The format of the book divides it into five kinds of death: the death of a partner, death of a parent, death of a sibling, death of a child, and dealing with your own impending death. For each section, the author gave case studies illustrating that type of situation. Then she provided a “Reflections” section for each. I personally found these the most interesting and practical parts of the book.
Many readers will enjoy the patient case studies, but most were severe cases to which I didn't relate. But if you have struggled with a particular kind of grief yourself, some of these might be very helpful.
A chapter at the end called “What helps: the work we need to do to help us grieve and survive successfully” included an especially good section called “How friends and family can help.” This section alone was worth the price of the book.
Important lessons about grief:
- Grief must be leaned into and experienced. When it is denied, the psychic toll is huge.
- Honesty is important when handling children who have experienced loss—otherwise, you risk them losing trust in you.
- One of the best things we can do for someone grieving is to really listen—without fixing, without judgment.
- No one returns to the same place after death—it is a “new normal.”
- Faith has a positive impact when it exists for someone grieving.
- The loss of a child is among the worst—parents should seek help together.
- I liked the helpful way the author talked about suicide: “a heart attack of the brain.”
One theme throughout the book was the importance of bringing feelings and wishes out in the open. We all should talk to our families about what we want to happen when we die. It is “magical thinking” to believe that talking about death will somehow hasten it. We must get better as a society about being comfortable talking about death.
Hope is the magic elixir
I loved this quote from Grief Works: “Hope is the alchemy that can turn a life around.”
What have you learned about coping with grief that might help others? Or have you read other books that you found helpful? Please share in the comments below.
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