book review, death of a spouse, grief

Book Review: When Your Soulmate Dies

“As I’ve said, the stronger the attachment in life, the stronger the resulting grief when the attachment is broken. The grand language soulmates use to describe their relationships tells me that soulmate love is larger than life. The consequence is that soulmate grief is also larger than life. Which brings me to the real question of this book. How do you heal such legendary grief? And the answer is: You mourn as you loved-grandly and deeply. You mourn heroically.”

I found myself nodding in agreement at these words from page 46 of Alan D. Wolfelt‘s “When Your Soulmate Dies: A Guide to Healing Through Heroic Mourning.” And then there was this:

“To be truly helpful, the people in your support system must appreciate the impact this death has had on you. They must understand that in order to heal, you must be allowed-even encouraged- to mourn long after the death. And they must encourage you to see mourning not as an enemy to be vanquished but as a necessity to be experienced as a result of having loved.” (page 126)

Soulmate cover

Yes, I’m immersing myself in the study of grief again, or maybe I never really left it. Look at my recent reads on my Goodreads profile, and you’ll see an awful lot of non-fiction books related to grief, illness, and loss. What might seem an unhealthy obsession to some, could be explained as research for the book proposal I’ve been working on, or as part of my training in bereavement to help others. I’ll be teaching an expressive writing through healing seminar at the Heal Your Grief event I’m coordinating for October. So reading about journaling and other ways of healing just makes sense.

I would have loved to have read this book shortly after David died. I think it would have been a tremendous help. Of course, if I was reading it then, my comments wouldn’t be included in it, would they?
Soulmate page

But honestly, all of this reading and studying serves a purpose for me; as a validation of sorts.

Sometimes I need the reminder that it is not unhealthy or abnormal to still be sideswiped by grief, even four years out from the loss. In fact, it is understandable. To be told otherwise by someone feigning compassion is reprehensible.

“I’ve notice that about one-third of the people in our lives are capable of showing up with a loving heart and a ministry of presence. Another third can’t really help in this way but don’t hurt us either. And the final third are often toxic and harmful to our healing. They may tell us to quit mourning or declare that we’re doing it wrong.”  (page 84)

Wolfelt’s wonderful book gives concrete ideas for mourning our soul mate. Highly recommended for anyone struggling to make sense of their loss, or looking for inspiration and encouragement as they navigate this difficult path.

Cecil Murphey, death of a spouse, grief, Uncategorized

Finding Hope in Grief, April 18

My husband David introduced me to Cecil Murphey’s book “90 Minutes in Heaven.” The very last book David held in his hands was the same author’s “Getting to Heaven.” On the day my husband died, a check from Cecil Murphey for an essay I wrote arrived in my mailbox. On the night of my husband’s wake, I received word I’d won a Cecil Murphey scholarship to a writer’s conference that would take place on what would have been mine and David’s 34th wedding anniversary. Six months after Cecil and I finally met at another writer’s conference, Cec lost his wife of nearly sixty years, and I began writing him letters, sharing pieces of the book he would later write a foreword for. Now, four years after my husband’s death, I will be speaking with the mentor who became my friend.


Cecil and Mary grief poster

David, grief

Hope for Healing

One day you are carrying a basket of laundry down the basement stairs, and you suddenly realize that you haven’t cried for more than 24 hours; not even a sob in the darkness of night. You stop on the landing and the basket slides from your hands, splaying dirty laundry all over the steps. You sit down and start crying about not crying; because you never want to forget him.

In the next moment, you dry your tears, realizing that you never will forget the person you loved, but that doesn’t mean you have to cry every single day.

At a thrift store you spot a book, I’m Grieving as Fast as I Can, and even though you are in the middle of The Truth About Grief, you snatch it up and add it to the growing pile on the shelf near your desk. One night at the swimming pool, you read about grief for two hours while your daughter swims. You tear out a page of the legal pad you carry everywhere and start taking notes.

It occurs to you that you are studying grief as though it was a college course and the only way you’ll pass is to understand it.  You write down passages like this one; “Sadness helps us make these kinds of adjustments by giving us a forced ‘time-out.’ Sadness slows us down and, by doing so, seems to slow the world down. Sometimes bereaved people even say that living with the sadness of loss is like living in slow motion. There seems to be less need to pay attention to the world around us, so we are able to put aside normal, everyday concerns and turn our attention inward.” (The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss,” by George A Bonanno, Basic Books, 2009, page 32)

Initially, I latched onto spiritual books written by Christians who had been down this road before me, like H. Norman Wright’s Reflection of a Grieving Spouse.  Books like this served as a life vest; a bungee cord to God. Later, for some variety, I read novels about losing a spouse or dying; Good Grief  and A Household Guide to Dying.  I could laugh at the extreme reactions of these characters; they are fictional. I couldn’t laugh at Joan Didion’s very real chronicle of grief; A Year of Magical Thinking. Always curious, I began googling terms like “mourning garb during the Victorian period” and “Indian rituals in grief.”  Would it help, or hinder grief, if we could drape ourselves in black crepe and a black bonnet for a year, I wondered. I shudder to think what the state my mind would be if I was not allowed to mingle with society as a Victorian widow. Nor am I enchanted by the jewelry some made of a beloved’s locks of hair after death. I was intrigued by the idea of “keening” and amused by this clip of Robin Williams teaching Carol Burnett to keen.

More recently I’ve been reading books that deal with the scientific and systematic study of the process of grieving.  The Truth About Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss by Ruth David Konigsberg delves into the difference between resilient grievers and chronic grievers and insists we humans are more resilient than the proliferation of grief counseling and support groups would have us believe, that we are, in fact, built to withstand loss since it so much a part of life. I took the step to disband from a Christian Facebook Widow and Widowers group after I read that, realizing that the most active among the group had either been the very recently widowed, or those widowed years ago who were still not functioning well. While I expect many moments of sadness and pain over the loss of David in the coming weeks, months, and even years, I don’t want to be the widow eight years out from her loss, still unable to function, nor do I want to be pulled down into the pit of despair along with them. The Other Side of Sadness categorizes this as “prolonged grief,” but this is the exception, not the rule.  In other words, those of us in the early stages of grief can take great comfort in knowing that it is likely we’ll survive, and someday even thrive.

For me, that means HOPE. And that’s something worth reading about.