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Grieving: A Beginner's Guide
by Jerusha Hull McCormack
Paraclete Press, 2006

review by Janet Ann Collins

As the old saw goes, there are only two things certain in life: Death and Taxes. As true as that is, it’s also true that no one who takes up residence on this planet can pass through without experiencing grief. The 23rd Psalm has it right—as often as we pass through verdant pastures, just beyond lies the valley of the shadow of death. In her new book, noted Oscar Wilde scholar Jerusha Hull McCormack serves as a tour guide through the dark valley and shows us how it can be one of the most liberating experiences of life.

In a profound way, McCormack recognizes that not everyone has the same world-view and that getting through the most difficult times is accomplished only by doing what works best for each individual. Her central message is this: we all have the right to grieve in the way that works for us and should resist being pushed into the mold our culture or people trying to help may impose on us. Moreover, McCormack shows how grief can become a positive part of our lives. She writes,

Try to remember: However others may see you, you are greater than your grieving. You are still the self you always were. And now you have the chance to become more than that: somebody who has touched the very centre [sic] of human experience and found that, in so doing, you are forever changed. You have entered a larger world. Do not subscribe to the notion of yourself as poor or someone to be pitied. Grieving does not impoverish; it enriches.

Practical suggestions include not trying to hide or avoid pain and using imagination as a tool. McCormack explains what to expect while dealing with grief, how to know if professional counseling is needed, and possible actions and attitudes to help in building a new life afterwards. As she writes,

We are all amateurs at grief, it comes to us all; we must all go through it. To treat grief as a problem to be fixed, or (worse still) to medicalize it, is to rob us of the extraordinary privilege of encountering this experience on our terms: for each of us has our own way of grieving, and each of us has something special to learn from the process.

The last chapter is for people trying to minister to the bereaved and includes things that shouldn’t be done as well as those that can help. Even while giving lists and other down to earth information, the author writes in a literary style that makes reading her book a pleasure in spite of the sad topic. As McCormack says,

Suffering breaks down the walls within us, so that we become weak, so that we become helpless, so that we must open ourselves to others and even perhaps to the great Other whom we call God. It is the means by which we give ourselves away and allow others to give themselves to us…Without such darkness no places in our lives would shine.

Beautiful poetry on related topics is interspersed throughout the book. But because they take up entire pages, the poems sometimes interrupt sentences or thoughts. It might have been more appropriate to put them at the beginnings or ends of chapters or insert them in the text where they are most relevant.

Nevertheless, I had just finished reading Grieving: A Beginner’s Guide and was preparing to write this review, when I learned my aunt had died. I immediately ordered copies for my cousins to help them through their grieving. McCormack’s book will probably help many other people, too.

Copyright ©2006 Janet Ann Collins

Grieving: A Beginner's Guide
To purchase a copy of GRIEVING: A BEGINNER'S GUIDE, visit amazon.com. This link is provided as a service to explorefaith visitors and registered users.


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