The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss. Basic Books 2009.

This book was an eye-opener. After decades of living with Kubler-Ross and the five stages of grief and finding that proposition only somewhat helpful, suddenly here was this book, based on substantial years of recent research that offered different and enabling perspectives.

bonanoWhat I found helpful was Bonnano’s finding that we have in in-built disposition towards resilience. That makes sense to me. Our ancestors in the cradle of humankind could hardly sit around incapacitated by mourning without becoming easy prey for predators.

I appreciated his observation that the Buddhist acceptance of the impermanence of earthly life appeared to give Buddhists greater equanimity in handling bereavement. So, there’s the rub, how to acquire the equanimity without becoming Buddhist?

I enjoyed his non-judgment; the man who remarries within months of losing his beloved wife. We are all different. We all have our own experience of grief and the response to one death cannot necessarily predict our response to another.

What was very new for me was his research into trauma counseling, 9-11 provided a body of research. It seems we do better if there’s a space in which we do our own processing first before engaging with a counsellor. I’m curious to learn more.

One reviewer sort of accuses Bonnano of some ‘magical thinking’ when writes of a study trip to China and his impulse to write a ritual paper offering to his father, “Ni Hao, Dad”. That didn’t bother me. I enjoyed reading the scientific research results he offered. I’m comfortable with a dose of magical thinking. It’s what so intriguing about who we are as human beings; so many of us live lives guided by scientific proof (our planet IS warming) and side by side with this our lives are guided by our belief systems which for many include a deity.

The Book of Forgiving: The fourfold path for healing ourselves and our world


Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu.

HarperOne. 2014

tutu bookThis is one of those books that I have read not only once, but keep it close to dip into from time to time. It’s a gift to all of us to think about the relationships in our lives, how healthy they are and how to consider engaging with any hurts we harbor.

It’s full of suggestions if you decide that you actually want to resolve a hurt rather than simply sweep it out of sight and mind. Consider a grievance you may hold. The suggestion is to find a stone: small enough to put in your pocket but heavy enough for you to be reminded of its presence.

There’s a process suggested to work your way through the grievance to forgiveness. It’s beautiful. The last action involves writing words in the sand that the wind can carry away.

No-one is unforgivable is a central tenet of the book. However, a second tenet is that if forgiveness is tethered to conditions, you may remain tethered. No strings attached is the recommended approach to forgiveness.

And what if you cannot yet find your way to this? Then there is the Prayer for the Unready called the Prayer Before the Prayer:

I want to be willing to forgive
But I dare not ask for the will to forgive
In case you give it to me
And I am not yet ready

The Book of Forgiving: The fourfold path for healing ourselves and our world.

Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu.

HarperOne. 2014

This is one of those books that I have read not only once, but keep it close to dip into from time to time. It’s a gift to all of us to think about the relationships in our lives, how healthy they are and how to consider engaging with any hurts we harbor.

It’s full of suggestions if you decide that you actually want to resolve a hurt rather than simply sweep it out of sight and mind. Consider a grievance you may hold. The suggestion is to find a stone: small enough to put in your pocket but heavy enough for you to be reminded of its presence.

There’s a process suggested to work your way through the grievance to forgiveness. It’s beautiful. The last action involves writing words in the sand that the wind can carry away.

No-one is unforgivable is a central tenet of the book. However, a second tenet is that of forgiveness is tethered to conditions, you may remain tethered. No strings attached is the recommended approach to forgiveness.

And what if you cannot yet find your way to this? Then there is the Prayer for the Unready called the Prayer Before the Prayer:

I want to be willing to forgive

But I dare not ask for the will to forgive

In case you give it to me

And I am not yet ready

….

Atul Gawande. Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End

Atul Gawande takes you through his close observation of three journeys towards elderliness, increasing fragility and eventual death of three relatives of his family: his grandfather who dies an easeful death after a long life in India, his immigrant father who dies of cancer and his mother-in-law, of Anglo-Saxon descent, who lives as a widow for many years before moving to a retirement home with frail care access.

He presents the dilemma faced by elderly parents and their adult children. The elderly parents want to hold on to their independence whilst the adult children are anxious for their parents’ safety.

being mortal illness medicine and what matters in the endGawande tells you of innovations in American care institutions, new places where people’s rooms are clustered together, where there are pets and plants and people can overhear the voices of young children in the day-care facility provided for the employees’ children.

It’s a more humane institutional approach to elderliness at a time when medical advances can keep us alive -but alongside our longevity we have to navigate more physical and sometimes more psychological fragility.

The new approach tries to resolve the dilemma of maintaining as much independence as possible for as long as possible in a safe environment. A win-win for the elderly parents and their concerned adult children – for those who can afford this option.

It's a must read whether or not you have elderly parents – it’s a must read for you to think and plan for what might eventually happen in your own life.