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Book Review: On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler

March 2, 2016 9 comments

Book Review: On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David KesslerSummary:
This book presents the science of grief and grieving, based largely upon the lifetime work of renowned psychologist Dr. Kübler-Ross.

Review:
How to review the first book you picked up after losing your 58-year-old father suddenly and unexpectedly to a heart attack? Normally I take a very academic approach to my book reviews (or at least I try to). I can’t review this one that way. I certainly wasn’t in an academic frame of mind when I was reading it. I wasn’t anywhere near my normal frame of mind. So instead, I’ll tell you about my experience reading it.

I found out my father was dead at 7am on a Thursday. I knew my father had been taken to the hospital the night before. My brother, who lives near where my father did, called me to let me know. But he also called me with an update that my father was stabilized. Neither of us was very worried, because my dad suffered from heart disease for eleven years and had been hospitalized periodically. He had a pacemaker. He was on medication. He had a specialist who did his long-term care. The ER was confident in his stability. They sent my brother home. My brother called me and told me to go to sleep. I did. He called me again about an hour later and left a voicemail telling me to call him back. I knew from the voicemail what he was going to tell me. I just knew it. I think I knew it the night before when I went to bed too. Because in spite of being told repeatedly that my dad was going to be fine, I cried myself to sleep that night. My brother, when I called him back, told me that my father had gone into cardiac arrest when they were moving him from the ER to a more specialized heart hospital. In spite of being in an ambulance surrounded by health care workers, the heart attack won.

In any case, the instant I heard the voicemail, I went numb. I woke my husband and told him. I called my workplace. I sent off certain work emails to pass off tasks to others to cover. I texted my friends. Then I sat on our bed and I felt….nothing. I was in a complete and total state of shock, I know now. Largely thanks to this book.

Late that night, when I found it was utterly impossible for me to sleep and was certain I would never sleep again, I reached out to the same thing I’ve always reached out to my entire life: books. I opened my laptop and logged in to the Boston Public Library’s ebooks search. I did not have the ability to go off looking for a print book at a branch. I needed help now. In the middle of the night.

I searched the catalog for “grief,” and got a list of…I dunno, a few books. This one was the most scientific. The rest were quite religious, and while that’s fine for other people, that’s not what comforts me. So I downloaded this, and I started to read it. And I instantly started to feel less like there was something wrong with me.

I learned that it’s entirely normal to go into shock at first. To not feel much of anything. It’s your body protecting you, letting the emotions in a little at a time, as you can handle them, so you will stay safe. And indeed, that night, after the first 12 hours of knowing, I sobbed in my husband’s arms. Thanks to this book, I knew that the numbness could come and go. In fact, the most helpful thing I learned in this book was that the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) don’t come in order necessarily, and they’re not neat. You don’t move through them in an orderly fashion. You may be angry one day, depressed the next, in denial another, and feel ok and accepting for a bit, then right back to depression. And that’s normal and ok.

I also learned, which was really important for me to know, that the stage of anger can sometimes express itself as guilt, which is just anger turned inward. Some people are more likely to turn their anger inward, and I am definitely one of them. Knowing this was where my (irrational) guilt was coming from (god knows I couldn’t possibly have saved my father from a heart attack from hundreds of miles away) made it much easier for me to cope with the feelings when they did come up.

There were other particular things that the book predicted might happen that kept me from getting freaked out when they did. For instance, I periodically was certain my phone had buzzed with a text message from my father. So certain, in fact, that I picked it up to check. Twice I thought I saw my dad on the street. Both of these I may have been concerned were abnormal, but the book reassured me these “ghost sightings” are totally normal. It’s your body and brain readjusting to your new reality.

The book also gave me warnings about things to come. Things like how the first holidays without the person or the person’s birthday would be difficult. So I knew to expect that and prepared myself for it. It also talked about being patient with yourself in things like dealing with the loved one’s possessions. Not to rush yourself, that it’s ok to take a little bit of time. There were also warnings about how quickly the person’s scent will fade that meant I took the time to really smell a couple of my dad’s tshirts, because I knew the scent would be one of the first things to go.

There is a “specific circumstances” section that talks about things like multiple losses simultaneously or suicide. I wish this section had a bit more on various other special circumstances. For instance, I had just gotten married 7 weeks before, and then my father died. I would have loved a section talking about the juxtaposition of such happiness with such sadness, and how to handle the emotions of things like your first married Thanksgiving (so happy!) also being your first Thanksgiving without your father.

Overall, this book gave me guidance of what to expect from my grief in the immediate time after the loss, as well as in the first year. It mostly contains universal information that will be helpful to anyone going through a loss. If you are a person who finds comfort in books or science, you will find comfort in this read. If you love someone who has recently lost a loved one, reading this will help you to know what behavior from them is normal and guide you in supporting them and validating them through the experience.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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