Book Review: Getting Grief Right: Finding Your Story of Love in the Sorrow of Loss by Patrick O’Malley and Tim Madigan (2017)

Friday, July 28th, 2017

Finding Your Own Path in Grief

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

The writer Anne Lamott says it beautifully: “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

It’s not an exaggeration to say that, over time, the nature of “successful” grieving was redefined in my office by both my clients and me. It wasn’t getting over loss; it was learning to live with it, and to use the grief narrative as a way to preserve a bond with the one who died.

This book will not help you “get over” your grief, but will help you experience your sorrow in its most pure form.

Patrick O’Malley knows a thing or two about loss: not only is he a therapist who specializes in bereavement counseling, but he lost his first-born son, Ryan, before they’d even celebrated his first birthday. As a young husband, new father, and practicing psychotherapist, O’Malley followed the advice of his colleagues – indeed, the same advice he’d given to countless grieving patients – and tried to “get over” Ryan’s death. However, as the prescribed time frame for grieving came and went, O’Malley gradually began to question the wisdom and efficacy of stage-based models of bereavement, perhaps best exemplified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s infamous five stages of grief. (Say it with me: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.)

After much soul searching and years of experience, O’Malley embraced a much kinder and more compassionate framework: one that celebrates the patient’s unique relationship to the deceased; recognizes that we all grieve in our own way, that there is no “one size fits all” model of grief; and uses storytelling to craft a cohesive grief narrative. In this way, grief is not something you “work through” and leave behind you; rather, to love is to grieve, and grieving is one way to keep your loved one alive in your memories. Storytelling – whether through journaling, videotaped recollections, or something else – is a powerful way to do this.

Getting Grief Right consists of three key elements. First, O’Malley briefly explores the history of stage-based models of grief. He then shares the story of his own loss, and in so doing, he illustrates how profoundly his professional wisdom failed him in his greatest time of need. Using his own experiences, as well as those of his patients, as a jumping-off point, O’Malley explores this new approach to dealing with grief.

(More below the fold…)