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Book Review: Mindfulness and Grief: With Guided Meditations to Calm Your Mind and Restore Your Spirit by Heather Stang

September 8, 2016 Leave a comment

Book Review: Mindfulness and Grief: With Guided Meditations to Calm Your Mind and Restore Your Spirit by Heather StangSummary:
Mindfulness & Grief is an eight-week guide using meditation, yoga, journaling and expressive arts, plus inspirational stories, to help you reduce suffering and emerge transformed on the other side of loss.

Review:
Most of my readers know that I lost my father suddenly and unexpectedly last November (my eulogy). I reached out for books to help me, as I have my whole life. I reviewed the first one I read here. The first book I reached out to was a more raw experience, and I think that’s reflected in that review. For the second book, I was particularly seeking something to guide me so I didn’t become stuck in any one feeling or place. I’m not religious, but I do consider myself to be both science-minded and spiritual, and I know mindfulness holds a lot of esteem in psychology. So when I saw this book offering basically an 8 week course in mindfulness specifically for grief, I thought it’d be a good match.

It’s obvious that it took me much longer than 8 weeks to complete the book. I think putting 8 weeks on there is a bit unrealistic. I often found at the end of the week in question that I wasn’t yet ready to move on to the next phase or that I hadn’t had time to do the activities in the book yet. I think the book often fails to consider how busy the person who is also grieving might be. There is much more going on in your life than the grief and so it must be compartmentalized and dealt with only periodically. That said, I did find the phases to be appropriate and in the right order, and once I gave myself permission to do them at whatever pace I deemed appropriate, I found working through them helpful.

Each chapter talks about where you might be emotionally at this point and offers stories from others who’ve gone through the grief process to help you feel less alone. Each chapter ends with some activities to do. Some of them are guided meditations, others are prompted journaling and still others are activity suggestions such as specific types of yoga or walking. I found the journaling prompts to be the most helpful. They were straight-forward and often pushed me to encounter an uncomfortable feeling I was trying to avoid in my grief and work through it.

The book said that the guided meditations could be accompanied by recordings on the partner website but at the time I was trying to do them I could not find them. It’s not easy to do a guided meditation that you must repeatedly open your eyes and read. I suppose I could have made my own recordings based on what the book said but my energy level was low at the time (due to the grief) and I instead tried to use them with the book, which wasn’t particularly helpful. I think this book could work really well if it came with a digital download of the meditations and maybe even some guided yoga sessions. There were a few written out yoga sessions as well, which I always find difficult to follow.

In spite of the shortcomings, I still found this book helpful in my grief. It wasn’t exactly the program to follow that I was expecting but it did provide timely journaling prompts and stories from others that helped me feel comforted.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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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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In Memory of My Dad

November 17, 2015 5 comments

dadpic10On November 12th, my dad, William Frank McNeil, passed away.  He was 58 years old.  You may see his obituary here.

Yesterday was his funeral.  I gave a eulogy there that I have reproduced below. 

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In Loving Memory

One of the first things people often say to me when they get to know me is, “You’re such a daddy’s girl,” and my response always is, “Of course, why wouldn’t I be? I got a great one.”  I hear so many stories of absentee fathers. Quiet fathers. Fathers who don’t know how to talk to their daughters. Fathers who clearly wish their daughters were sons.  I never had any of those problems with my dad, and I know he had to fight to make that so.

My dad had a hard life. He lived so much in his far too short 58 years.  He worked so hard. Harder than I realized when I was little.  One of my earliest memories is of running to the door to meet him at the end of a workday yelling, “Papa Papa,” and he would pick me up and immediately play with me.  As an adult now I realize he was coming home from often 12 to 14 hour shifts doing physical, hard labor. He could have so easily begged off as being tired. Too tired for the antics of a 4 or 5 year old. But he never did. He always met me with this overwhelmingly positive response. It was like I was the center of his world.

But my dad didn’t just love me or spoil me. He was also tough on me in lots of little ways that helped me be who I am today.  My friends often tell me, “Amanda, you’re so brave.” What they don’t realize is that I’m really not.  At least, not naturally.  My dad taught me to be.  The best example of this is when I went away to college.

When I was 17, my dad took me to tour Brandeis University in Boston and he told me, “This is it. This is the one for you.” And I listened.  But when I got there, I had a major freak-out that many first-generation college students have.  Brandeis was a top-level, historically Jewish college, and I was there on scholarship.  I was surrounded by people and a culture that I knew nothing about. I felt like I was on an alien planet…or at least in Europe.  They talked about things I had no understanding of and bonded over going out shopping and to restaurants….and to their ski chalets.  When my computer broke the first week of school, I cried, and my roommate said, “Well just buy a new one” not understanding that that was just not possible.  I called my dad crying, begging him to let me come home and go to culinary school instead.  He told me no, that being a chef was a hard life and physically difficult, and he wanted more for me.  He told me, “You belong there, Amanda. You’re smart as a whip and you are not a quitter. Don’t forget our family motto. To conquer or die. You can conquer this.”  Then he made a deal with me. He said if I was still miserable by Christmas I could come home.  I thought he was caving. I realize now he was just smarter than me and knew I would be happy at Brandeis by then. Oh, and he somehow magically got a computer and sent it down to me.

My dad was not perfect. He had a hot temper when I was young…it mellowed with age. He was stubborn. He would have periods of being very down and sad. He often didn’t take care of himself as well as he should, putting oxygen masks on literally everyone else on the plane before himself (that’s a metaphor, my father did NOT fly in airplanes.)

But. My dad was always willing to admit when he was wrong and say he was sorry. He always tried…so hard. So incredibly hard. He didn’t stagnate. He changed his opinions if given enough new factual information.  He was funny. So incredibly funny. His dry wit in the face of terrifying things like a triple bypass is something I strive to live up to. He had a near-magical way with animals. I literally never saw him meet an animal that didn’t immediately glom onto him with love. And he was so incredibly smart. He was able to do insanely complex math in his head…math that would make my head spin if you gave me a high-powered computer to help me do it. He read voraciously at a speed I have never seen anywhere else. He had an eye for beauty. His furniture he crafted were truly works of art.

My dad always told me that my brother and I were the best thing he ever did. That he’d go through everything again just to have the two of us. All he ever wanted was for us to have better lives than he had. To have physically easier jobs. To get to enjoy life more. To have partners who truly loved us. The best advice he ever gave me was to never settle and to wait for your one true love.  It was hard in my early 20s when it seemed everyone else around me was coupled up. But my dad’s assertion that it’s better to be alone than to be with the wrong person kept me strong and waiting. And then I met Phil. And I brought him home to meet my dad. My dad was a bit skeptical since Phil is an engineer….and my dad did not have the best experience with engineers in the shops. So he quizzed him with a math problem that usually stumped the engineers, and Phil got it right. And my dad said well, he’s an engineer but he’s no dummy. He was just teasing us though.  He sat me down and told me very seriously how much he liked Phil. that Phil clearly made me happy. Happier than I’d ever been before.

Seven weeks ago, my dad came and stayed with us for a week while we got ready for our wedding and got married.  Daddy helped me bake my bridal pie. It was the last time we’d ever cook together, after 29 years of doing so, though I obviously didn’t know it then. He watched me marry my best friend.  He danced our father-daughter dance with me, and while we were dancing he whispered to me, “I am so proud of you,” and I swear that he meant it more than he did at my college graduation.

There are so many things that I will never get now that my father is gone.  I never got to go to a Patriots game with him. He won’t see me turn 30. He will not get to see me pregnant or meet any kids Phil and I may have one day.

My world I live in now is so different from my father’s world. I worry out loud to my husband that no one will know where I come from.  And he tells me. You are your father’s daughter. Your father lives in you, whether you realize it or not. You have his sense of humor, his chin, his temper. You are short and stubborn. And incredibly determined.  But what I really hope is to emulate my dad in another way.

My dad was a good man, but he was quiet about it. He was never ever prideful. In fact one of the few times he would yell at me was if I got too full of myself.  He lived Jesus’ commandment, “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” I think this commandment speaks to more than prayer. It speaks to any good you do.  My dad did the right thing because it was the right thing to do, and he never called attention to it.  And he was rewarded for it.  Just look around this room, and you can see it.

Daddy, in the face of so much hardship and opportunities to do otherwise, you were a good man. And I will miss you every day of my life.

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