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Arts & CultureBooksBook review: 'Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death, and Surviving'

Book review: ‘Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death, and Surviving’

Did you know that Home Hospice North Lanark has special sections in our local public libraries that hold a curated collection of books that deal with serious illness, death and dying, grief and bereavement, and other relevant subjects? Each month we feature a review written by someone in the organization to assist in choosing titles. All the reviews can be found here https://hhnl.ca/public-education-events.

Book Review

Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death, and Surviving by Julia Samuel

Review written by Ruth DuBois, Board member, HHNL

If you read the jacket on the book, Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death, and Surviving by Julia Samuel (2018, Doubleday Canada), you would be led to believe this book is a self-help reference for people who are actively grieving and for the people who want to understand grief so they can be supportive. I would argue that this book is particularly useful for people who are in counselling roles, whether paid or unpaid, professional or lay-educated. 

Samuel is herself an experienced grief psychotherapist in the United Kingdom. She has written a collection of case studies based on some of the clients she has supported through their grief over the past many years. Each chapter describes her interactions with clients who seek her help to work through a variety of grief contexts including those who have lost a partner, a parent, a sibling, a child, or are facing their own imminent death. She concludes these sections with two chapters, one about what helps us to do the work of grieving (she subscribes to the belief that grief is work), and what family and friends can do to help someone they care about who is grieving. These final sections are particularly instructive with useful, practical information not unlike that found in other self-help literature. 

The case studies are varied in context and well described by information about not only the current loss which drove the client to seek psychotherapeutic help, but also with historical and background knowledge gained through Samuel’s months to years-long relationship with that client. Both genders, ages across the adult lifespan, and various constellations of family are represented in the stories she relates. Although it is suggested that her book would be helpful to a reader who is in acute grief, I wondered as I read these detailed cases whether I would have energy and capacity to focus on those losses in the midst of my own grief. It seemed to me more a book for someone after some adjustment to a significant loss, or more likely to assist me in helping someone else who is grieving.

This author clearly empathizes with her clients, and seeks to understand them even when she notes that her initial impression may not have been positive. She is very committed to learning about their situation, and considers their childhood, education, and career experiences in light of their present situation. Though her advice is practical and active, she makes it clear that active listening and reflecting are essential when helping another person to find their way through their grief. She is very open with the reader about the various impacts others’ stories have on her as a therapist, and how she manages her own stress, emotions, and personal pain, something I really appreciated and found unique. 

This book is available at the Mississippi Mills Almonte Library on the “HHNL shelf” delegated to Palliative Care and Grief/Bereavement. It is definitely interesting and well written, with lots of suggestions for ways to assist through one’s own grief, as well as while walking the journey with those who are grief-stricken. Whether it would be comforting to the person who has experienced a recent loss, or is suffering the throes of complicated or traumatic grief, I am less certain. 

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