Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death, and Surviving
Grief is work. Hard work. This book organizes this work into categories defined by the grieving person’s relationship to the diseased. There are sections for sibling death, the loss of a child, bereavement of a spouse, loss of a parent, and most importantly and often overlooked, an individual’s own death. Julia Samuel is a bereavement therapist with over 20 years of experience. In Grief Works she describes the stories of three separate patients for each of the relationship categories. The stories are all deeply touching as is the author’s honest assessment of how these devastating losses affect her. She strives to bring her patients through the grieving process with dignity, safety, and at their own pace and that often necessitates embracing her own vulnerability.
After each trio of patient stories, Samuel provides a few pages of reflection that analyze the particular hallmarks of the loss relationship previously described. After she tells the story of three people who lost siblings, she discusses the aspects of that loss and how best to deal with it and what to look out for. In the sibling death reflection she points out, quite astutely, that one of the most common hardships that surviving siblings face is a discounting of their loss by friends and family. There is a larger analysis section at the end of the book that attempts (with good reason) to instruct would be supporters of the bereaved on how to best perform their role. Samuel spends several pages discussing common pitfalls and how to avoid them. This is refreshing to read and it is heartening that someone is attempting to tell people how to support the bereaved. However, I fear that the message may not reach many in the the author’s intended audience as it is usually people who have suffered a loss who read books on grief.
I learned a few new things reading this book and was glad to some of my experiences and perceptions validated. I found the absence of the apt, correct, brilliant, yet hackneyed use of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, to be a welcome change. This therapist writes what she felt and saw and includes her own struggles in the stories of how she helped her patients during some of the hardest times in their lives.
This is a helpful and insightful book written by someone dedicated to counseling people through a daunting and often misunderstood process that we all will experience at some time in our lives. The extensive bibliography will be of use to anyone who includes reading in their grief process.